'Weekend Warriors' May Have Lower Risk of Death

Low section of woman exercising on treadmill

Weekend warriors who crammed the minimum amount of weekly exercise into one or two workouts were 30 percent less likely to die during the study.

The findings, published January 9 in JAMA Internal Medicine, show that weekend warriors had a 30 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality than those who reported no physical activity, while those who were regularly active had a 35 percent lower risk. This study supports earlier research showing that irregular exercise schedules-as long as they meet recommendations for physical activity-can improve overall health.

Currently, experts recommend 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise.

They found risk of death from all causes was 30 percent lower among weekend warrior adults compared to inactive adults, and risk of cardiovascular death was 40 percent lower for weekend warrior adults.

Infrequent exercisers also had an 18 percent lower cancer risk and 40 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease than non-exercisers. O'Donovan, a research associate in the Exercise as Medicine programme at Loughborough University in England, and his colleagues analyzed data from national health surveys of more than 63,000 people, conducted in England and Scotland.

Over an average 9-year follow up, there were a total of 8,802 deaths from all causes, 2,780 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 2,526 deaths from cancer.

Can limiting your exercise to just the weekend be as good as doing it five days a week?

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For those who have resolved to get fit in the New Year, O'Donovan recommends to start with moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, and then to set realistic, incremental goals to boost confidence without running the risk of setbacks due to injury. This allowed them to look at the risk of death in each group, taking other factors such as smoking, illnesses, age, and socioeconomic status into account.

It means if you only have time for a workout once or twice a week, that's enough to keep you healthy - particularly if it's the kind of tough workout that'll briefly make you wish you were dead.

"These findings suggest that some physical activity in an isolated session, or low activity, is certainly better than no activity for reducing mortality risk", Hannah Arem and Loretta DiPietro, of George Washington University, wrote in a commentary accompanying the new study in the journal.

The study looked at survey responses from almost 64,000 people, and grouped them in four categories: inactive, insufficiently active, weekend warrior and regularly active.

Even those who were deemed "insufficiently active", or those who only completed the bare minimum in exercise hours, lowered their mortality risks by 37% for CVD and 14% for cancer, the study states.

Together, the authors concluded that "less frequent bouts of activity, which might more easily fit into a busy lifestyle, offer considerable health benefits". More exercise is better, of course.

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