An international research team has revealed that people who engage in one or two workout sessions mainly on weekends are likely to get the same significant health and longevity benefits as others who engage actively in physical activity more regularly throughout the week.
The findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine showed that whether the workout sessions are spread out over the course of the week or on the weekend, adults who engage in 150 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous exercise or 75 minutes of intense workout per week may experience similar health benefits. According to the study, both groups have a lower risk of developing diabetes, early mortality from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other health problems that afflict inactive people.
For how long should you exercise to improve your health?
Experts suggest a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week or 75 minutes of intensive exercise. An individual could meet these guidelines with a quick 30-minute walk five days per week or a 75 minutes jog once weekly. But no agreement exists on how frequently someone should exercise or whether activities should be spread out over more frequent short bursts of time for optimal health benefits.
The survey and the study
The findings were based on over 350,000 people in the US, closely monitored for about a decade, and were grouped into four categories: inactive, insufficiently active, weekend warrior, and regularly active. All the three groups that worked out fared better on numerous health markers than inactive individuals. Of the 22,000 deaths, there were 15% fewer among those that are regularly active.
People who exercise exclusively on one or two days of the week, known as “weekend warriors,” had a mortality risk roughly 30% lower than those who exercise three times a week or more. Weekend athletes had a 40% reduced risk of cardiovascular death and an 18% lower risk of cancer death than those who were not active.
Both regularly active people who exercised three or more days per week and insufficiently active people who got less than the recommended amount of exercise experienced similar effects.
“We observed that weekend warriors and those who were consistently active had similar all-cause and cause-specific mortality,” said the authors. It implies that when engaging in the same level of physical activity, dividing it up across more or fewer days may not affect mortality results.
The international team investigated relationships between the weekend warrior and other physical activity patterns and deaths from all causes, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. The findings have implications for those who find it difficult to fit in exercise because of work or family obligations. They might find it simpler to fit shorter periods of physical activity into a busy schedule.
Insufficiently active participants had a 31 per cent reduced risk of dying from any cause than the inactive participants, while routinely active participants had a 35 per cent lower risk. The risks of dying from cancer or heart disease are quite similar among regular exercisers and insufficient exercisers, each within a few percentage points of the weekend warriors’ reduced risk.
“The results of this significant prospective cohort study, which included 350,978 US adults, underline that regular physical activity has been linked to lower chances of overall and cause-specific mortality. Most importantly, these results imply that there might not be a substantial difference in health benefits depending on whether the required amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity is spread out over the course of the week or focused on fewer days. The results are significant for those who have fewer possibilities for daily or regular physical activity during the work week,” the researchers write.
Shortfalls of the Survey data
The study stopped short of demonstrating cause and effect since it was based on participants who responded to health surveys in Britain and depended on their self-reported exercise duration and intensity. Researchers also warned that the advantages of weekend exercise might not apply to the entire population because 90% of the respondents were white.
According to the study, weekend exercisers tended to be men on average and completed 300 minutes of weekly exercise in one or two days. People exercised through gardening, walking, cycling, jogging, and organized sports, among other activities. Nearly 63 percent of survey participants were inactive, making up the majority. Twenty-two percent of people were not active enough. Only 3.7 percent and 11 percent of participants were weekend warriors and regular exercisers, respectively.
Despite the limitations of the study, its authors referred to their finding as “statistically powerful” and claimed that it supported earlier work by Harvard University, which followed 580 participants and discovered that weekend athletes had a lower death risk than sedentary men.
Get your exercise whenever you can
Physical activity, according to experts, improves health by preventing weight gain, lowering cholesterol, promoting restful sleep, and lowering the risk of developing cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
“It is motivating that being physically active – just one or two times weekly – is connected with a lower risk of mortality, even among individuals who perform some activity but do not meet the recommended exercise levels,” says Emmanuel Stamatakis, senior author and associate professor at the University of Sydney.