‘Weekend warriors’ winning the fight for their health

13 January 2017

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So-called "weekend warriors", who squeeze their recommended weekly 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise into just one or two sessions, achieve much the same health benefits as those who spread their activity over the week, according to a study published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Researchers at Loughborough University, Harvard and the University of Sydney looked at the effects of different activity patterns on the risk of death from heart disease, cancer, and general mortality.

Modern life is busy, and lots of people find it easier to slot their weekly exercise into one or two chunks on the weekend. However, until recently, it wasn’t clear whether cramming your activity fix into just one or two sessions carried the same health benefits.

The results from the study show that active adults had an approximately 30% reduction in their mortality risk from all causes compared to inactive adults, regardless of how they spread out their recommended exercise through the week. And even participants who didn’t meet the recommended levels but were involved in at least some moderate or vigorous exercise in the week still saw a similar reduction in risk.

“We were surprised that even those who reported some leisure time physical activity, even though it was less than [the recommended levels], still enjoyed much the same benefits,” says lead author Gary O’Donovan of Loughborough University, although he stresses the importance of “purposeful activity” of a moderate or vigorous level to achieve these benefits.

Overall, weekend warriors saw a 40% reduction in death from cardiovascular disease and an 18% reduction in cancer-related death compared to inactive people.

Previous work on the ‘weekend warrior’ effect only had small sample sizes. These researchers looked at survey data for 63,591 individuals over the age of 40 in England and Wales, collected between 1994 and 2012. The study relied on self-reported activity levels and didn’t show a causal link between the activity and health, but the results do show a strong reduction in mortality risk if you are physically active. According to O’Donovan, “the evidence that exercise is good for you is as compelling as the evidence that smoking is bad for you.”

So does he have any advice for those thinking of joining the weekend warrior ranks?

“To those weekend warriors out there – keep up the good work. To those of you thinking of becoming more active, start with moderate intensity activity and add vigorous activity after 12 weeks.”

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