Weekend Warriors who shun exercise during the working week then embark on a fitness blitz on their days off, gain almost the same benefits as those following daily guidelines, a new study has shown.
Previously experts believed that intensive activity at the weekend was not enough to stave off five days of sedentary inactivity, hunched over a desk.
But a new study suggests that the Weekend Warrior lifestyle actually offers significant longterm health benefits, lowering the risk of early death from cancer and heart disease.
“The weekend warrior activity pattern, characterised by one or two sessions per week of moderate or vigorous physical activity, may be sufficient to reduce risks for all-cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality regardless of adherence to prevailing physical activity guidelines,” said lead author Dr Gary O’Donovan, of Loughborough University.
The NHS recommends that adults do at least 150 minutes per week of moderate activity, or at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity, or equivalent combinations.
But some small studies have suggested that cramming a week’s worth of exercise into just one or two days can increase the risk of injury and put too much pressure on the heart.
The new research followed more than 63,000 British adults between 1994 and 2012 to find out if exercise needed to be done on a daily basis.
During the study period there were 8,802 deaths from all causes, 2,780 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 2,526 from cancer.
But the risk of death fell significantly for all those who exercised, regardless of whether they crammed all their activity into the weekend, or spaced it out through the week.
Compared to inactive individuals, Weekend Warriors had a 30 per cent low risk of death overall, a 40 per cent lower risk of cardiovascular disease and 18 per cent lower risk of dying from cancer.
Those who spread out their exercise through the week had a 35 per cent lower risk of overall death, 41 per cent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and 21 per cent lower risk of cancer.
“It is very encouraging news that being physically active on just one or two occasions per week is associated with a lower risk of death, even among people who do some activity but don’t quite meet recommended exercise levels,” said senior author Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the University of Sydney.
“However, for optimal health benefits from physical activity it is always advisable to meet and exceed the physical activity recommendations.”
The study found that more men than women were ‘Weekend Warriors’, a divide of 56 per cent to 44 per cent, while around 55 per cent divided their activity over two days and 45 per cent crammed all exercise into a single day.
The results also showed that even people who did not meet the 150 minute recommendation, but still did some exercise, had a lower risk of death.
“Compared to inactive people, the results reveal that the insufficiently active, weekend warriors and people with regular physical activity patterns had reduced risks of death,” added Dr Stamatakis.
“This finding persisted after adjusting for chronic diseases and excluding those who died in the first two years of the study.
“These results mean that ‘Weekend Warriors’ and other leisure-time physical activity patterns characterised by one or two sessions per week may provide beneficial health outcomes event when they fall short of physical activity guidelines.”
The research was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.