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NBC News BETTER brings you wellness news and tips to make the most of your mind, your body and your life.

5 Science-Backed Ways to Have a Healthier Weekend

Don’t let the two days off derail your wellness goals.

by Brianna Steinhilber /
Yes, pizza is still on the menu.mihailomilovanovic / Getty Images

We live for the weekends. A two-day reprieve from the daily grind.

It’s also a detour from the health goals you put so much effort in to during the work week. You stay out later and allow yourself to sleep in (without a blaring alarm), indulge in some pizza and beer on Friday night and loosen the reigns on your exercise routine.

It feels great, but what happens during the weekend most definitely doesn’t stay there. In fact, letting loose for two days leaves us with baggage that we carry into the new week. Meaning all that hard work you put in can be completely derailed by the short span of time between happy hour on Friday and Sunday brunch.

A study from Cornell University found that people tend to weigh a little bit more on Mondays than they do on Fridays. And your weight isn’t the only piece of your overall wellness that suffers on the weekends. From your sleep schedule to your stress levels, here are some simple ways to give your weekend a health boost that will keep your weekday goals intact.

Don’t Ditch the Alarm

We know, it feels oh so good to ditch the alarm clock and sleep until 10 a.m.

But researchers at the University of Arizona-Tuscon found that “social jet lag” — the discrepancy that occurs between our body’s biological clock and the sleeping schedule we keep on weekends due to social activities — ends up making you more tired, and inevitably, in a worse mood than if you maintained a consistent sleep schedule all seven days.

Sleeping in on the weekends leaves you more tired, and in a worse mood, than if you maintained a consistent sleep schedule all seven days.

Sleeping in on the weekends leaves you more tired, and in a worse mood, than if you maintained a consistent sleep schedule all seven days.

Plus, they found that it can have some more serious health consequences. With every one hour that sleep is shifted, you increase your risk of heart disease by 11 percent. Each one-hour shift was also linked with a 28 percent higher likelihood of people reporting their health as poor or fair compared to excellent.

Waking up at a consistent time is earlier said than done — your bed is very appealing on a lazy Sunday morning. So make getting up a little less painful by scheduling something you can look forward to earlier in the day — whether that’s a manicure or a coffee date with a friend.

 Couple kayaking on sunny ocean Hero Images / Getty Images

Keep Moving

A report released by Jawbone (that looked at data from their fitness and diet trackers) found that workouts peak on Monday. Not so surprising, they decline throughout the week, bottoming out on the weekend (they hit an all-time low on Friday). Which makes sense: When you’re on a specific schedule during the workweek it’s easier to keep exercise on the calendar. But once you hit Friday afternoon, you’re easily convinced to trade the sneakers for a pitcher of sangria.

But the lack of movement is partly to blame for the weight gain that happens over the weekend, so it’s important to schedule it in on Saturday and Sunday, too.

Research shows that people log the least amount of exercise Friday through Sunday, while bacon, beer and French fry consumption spike.

Research shows that people log the least amount of exercise Friday through Sunday, while bacon, beer and French fry consumption spike.

We don’t blame you for dreading holing up in the gym on Saturday afternoon — so mix things up and take your workouts outdoors. Being outside has some added health benefits, like improved focus, a boost in happiness and lower levels of anxiety. And let's be honest, we’re much more likely to stick to our weekend plans of kayaking in the park than rotting away on the treadmill.

Have a Cheat Meal (Not a Cheat Weekend)

The Jawbone report also revealed that diet patterns follow suit. As tracked workouts decline over the course of the week, bacon, beer and French fry consumption spike, hitting a peak between Saturday and Sunday.

You may think that letting loose for two days and then tightening the reigns on your diet again come Monday is a good plan of attack for your weight-loss goals. But think again. A study conducted by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine found that people who stuck with a strict diet all week, then overindulged on the weekends, not only lost weight slowly, but actually gained an average of .17 pounds per week (which, over the course of a year, would leave them nine pounds heavier!).

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t allow yourself to indulge at all — it’s actually important to incorporate cheat meals into your otherwise healthy diet — but keep it to one meal, not an entire weekend.

“There is a psychological component to the cheat day. Without rewards, it can become mundane to keep a healthy lifestyle day in and day out. Oftentimes, it may take several weeks to see the scale budge, so knowing that a cheat day is coming can help keep up motivation,” Jillian Guinta, professor in the Health and Physical Education Department at Seton Hall University, told Medical Daily.

So pick your poison, be it beer with the guys on Friday night or an indulgent Sunday brunch, and then get healthier fare back on the menu.

 Group of friends enjoying dinner party Tetra Images / Getty Images

Be Social

Between juggling work and family obligations during the week, finding time for social events is near impossible. But the lack of socialization may be hurting your health.

Social isolation and loneliness can have effects on our health similar to obesity.

Social isolation and loneliness can have effects on our health similar to obesity.

It’s a no brainer that socializing is good for our mental and emotional health, but it’s also literally good for our brains. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that older women who maintained large social networks reduced their risk of dementia and delayed or prevented cognitive impairment. And another study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who had an active social life in their 50s and 60s had slower rates of memory decline compared to those who were more isolated.

Plus, a study conducted at Brigham Young University compared the effects of social isolation and loneliness to obesity.

Yikes.

Looks like we’ll be making that solo Netflix and chill session a group affair.

Take a Hot Bath

We know the dangers of chronic stress well.

But as hard as we try to manage it, sometimes it’s out of our control. Train delays during a commute, juggling kid’s summer activities and last-minute deadlines at work can take a toll on our mental health over the course of the week, so it’s important to take advantage of the downtime on the weekend for a little self-care.

Spending time with friends and squeezing in exercise will help. Another super simple way to de-stress that won’t take a ton of time out of your weekend schedule (which is somehow still jam-packed with soccer games, family barbecues and summer weddings)?

Trade your shower for a bath.

When you take a hot bath your body temperature rises, and then quickly cools down, which relaxes your body and primes it for sleep. A pre-snooze bath also helps induce higher quality sleep (which can be hard to come by when you’re stressed). Making baths a habit can also lower blood pressure (which tends to spike when we’re chronically stressed).

Plus, you can burn some calories while you’re soaking: Researchers at Loughborough University found that relaxing in a hot bath and doing absolutely nothing burned 130 calories, the same amount you’ll burn on a half-hour walk.

Make the kids walk the dog — “soaking in the bathtub” is your workout of choice this weekend.

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