We often have a “more is better” mentality when it comes to things like exercise. You should hit the gym every day, right?
After all, according to a Gallup pole, only 51.6% of American exercise three or more days per week (Gallup). And that’s not nearly enough of us when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services claims “substantial” benefits when adults exercise between 150 (2 hours, 30 minutes) and 300 minutes (5 hours) per week (Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans).
But the “sweet spot” might be the middle of that number. According to a recent study, working out four times a week might be more beneficial to you than working out six times a week.
What the Study Says about Exercise
The study asked 72 previous sedentary women, ranging in age from 60 to 74-years-old do a combination of weight lifting and aerobic exercise for a particular number of days every week (Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise). They either worked out two days a week (one day weight lifting, one day aerobic), four days a week (two days weight lifting, two days aerobic), or six days a week (three days weight lifting, three days aerobic). Researchers had participants slowly increase their workouts so that each session was about 40 minutes.
After four months, all the groups lost body fat, increase muscle mass, and increase endurance. Surprisingly, all three groups had about the same level of fitness — meaning the two-day-a-week group was just as the six-day-a-week group.
But what was really interesting was the average energy expenditures. The two-day-a-week group used up about 68 extra calories per day in total energy expenditure (not just exercising). And the four-day-a-week group expended an extra 200 calories per day in total energy expenditure. But the six-day-a-week group actually used about 150 fewer calories per day in total energy expenditure.
Why Did Those Who Worked Out 4 Days a Week Use the Most Energy?
Think about the little decisions that add up in a day: Should I take the stairs instead of the elevator? Should I park at the back of the lot and walk to the store instead of finding a close space? Should I enjoy this nice weather and take a walk today?
It’s no secret that exercise has a lot of benefits that might make the answers to all three of those questions “yes.” Studies have found that nearly every person who engages in regular physical activities have increased energy levels (Sports Medicine). And many studies have suggested that exercise could have a beneficial effect on mood-boosting neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin (Sports Medicine).
But there’s even more to it. What researchers in the study about days-per-week of exercise found was that the women who exercised six days a week felt working out took too much time. Though they didn’t feel more tired, they did feel compelled to take more shortcuts like driving instead of walking. Conversely, researchers believe the other two groups felt more energetic and empowered and were subsequently more likely to engage in other forms of exercise.
This all resulted in the women who worked out two or four days a week inevitably using more extra energy outside of exercising than women who worked out six days a week. Though, researchers pointed out that this shouldn’t discourage people who want to work out six days a week, as long as they monitor their overall activity level.
What Are Some of the Skin Benefits of Exercising?
Not only will exercising improve your mood and energy levels, it could give your skin a boost too. When you’re stressed out, your body’s response inevitably deprives your skin of the oxygen and nutrients it needs (Beautiful Skin). Exercise lowers levels of these stress hormones, as well as insulin, both of which can cause skin problems like acne. In fact, studies have found that regular exercise can help to reduce acne (Journal of Health Psychology). Just be sure to wash your face within 10 minutes of finishing your workout to keep breakouts at bay!
Exercise has also been found to go all kinds of other great things for the skin. It has been shown to speed up wound healing (Research News). It also improves circulation, which helps bring more nutrients to the skin (Wellness Resource Center).
Exercise has many benefits for your overall well-being (and your skin!). But there’s no need to drag yourself to the gym every single day (unless you’re the kind of person who finds that energizing and fun). It’s better to work out three to four days a week to give your body and brain the extra boost to use more energy when you aren’t on the elliptical.