Article in the NYT Well Blog: Why 4 Workouts a Week May Be Better Than Six.
And how about just two workouts a week? Really -- almost as good.
A common concern about exercise is that if you don’t do it almost every day, you won’t achieve much health benefit. But a commendable new study suggests otherwise, showing that a fairly leisurely approach to scheduling workouts may actually be more beneficial than working out almost daily...
[R]esearchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham gathered 72 older, sedentary women, ages 60 to 74, and randomly assigned them to one of three exercise groups.
One group began lifting weights once a week and performing an endurance-style workout, like jogging or bike riding, on another day.
Another group lifted weights twice a week and jogged or rode an exercise bike twice a week.
The final group... completed three weight-lifting and three endurance sessions, or six weekly workouts.
There were, remarkably, almost no differences in fitness gains among the groups. The women working out twice a week had become as powerful and aerobically fit as those who had worked out six times a week...
However, the women exercising four times per week were now expending far more energy, over all, than the women in either of the other two groups....
“We think that the women in the twice-a-week and four-times-a-week groups felt more energized and physically capable” after several months of training than they had at the start of the study, says Gary Hunter, a U.A.B. professor who led the experiment. Based on conversations with the women, he says he thinks they began opting for stairs over escalators and walking for pleasure.
The women working out six times a week, though, reacted very differently. “They complained to us that working out six times a week took too much time,” Dr. Hunter says. They did not report feeling fatigued....Rather, they felt pressed for time and reacted, it seems, by making choices like driving instead of walking and impatiently avoiding the stairs.
I have long advised people who want to become "one of those people who works out" to start with twice a week, and try to keep that up for a good long while. I only manage three times a week myself, and that is if I am lucky and nothing derails me. Twice a week can be life-changing -- it is frequent enough to see and enjoy progress, but not enough to cause burnout. Whether it requires stressful schedule juggling depends on how full your schedule already is, and on what you are currently filling your time with.