Weekend warrior exercise counts toward longer life

January 11, 2017 Providence Health Team

Even if you cram all your exercise into two weekend days, you’re likely to live longer than people who don’t exercise at all.

Reports about a new study out of England have focused on the health of “weekend warriors”—people who exercise in just one or two sessions a week. Researchers found adults who exercise even less frequently than three sessions a week reduce their risk of dying from cancer or cardiovascular disease.

“One of the most striking findings in the present study was that one or two sessions per week of moderate- or vigorous-intensity leisure time physical activity was sufficient to reduce all-cause, (cardiovascular disease) and cancer mortality risks regardless of adherence to prevailing physical activity guidelines,” the authors wrote.

How much exercise helps?

The World Health Organization notes that regular and adequate physical activity of all types improves muscular and cardiorespiratory fitness as well as bone health, while reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression and cancer.

WHO’s recommendations for people aged 18 to 64 call for:

  • At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week; at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week; or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.

    For additional health benefits, adults should increase their moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or engage in 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, or an equivalent combination of moderate - and vigorous-intensity activity.
  • Aerobic activity in bouts of at least 10 minutes.
  • Muscle-strengthening activities involving major muscle groups on two or more days a week.

How do you measure moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity? The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests you apply the talk test, which it explains this way:

“In general, if you're doing moderate-intensity activity you can talk, but not sing, during the activity. If you're doing vigorous-intensity activity, you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for a breath.

Findings in the latest study

To test the benefits of weekend-only exercise, researchers in the British study divided subjects into several groups:

  • Inactive, with no moderate- or vigorous-intensity activities in a week
  • Insufficiently active, reporting less than 150 minutes a week in moderate-intensity activity and less than 75 minutes a week in vigorous-intensity activity
  • Weekend warrior, reporting 150 or more minutes a week in moderate-intensity and 75 minutes or more a week in vigorous-intensity activities, in one or two sessions
  • Regularly active, reporting the same levels of activity as weekend warriors, but in three or more sessions a week.

They found significant health benefits for all who are active, even if they are classified as insufficiently active.

“The present study suggests that some leisure time physical activity is better than none; that mortality risks were lower in the insufficiently active and the weekend warrior participants than the inactive participants; that the reductions in risk in the insufficiently active and weekend warrior participants were similar; and that, in those who reported meeting physical activity guidelines, frequency and duration did not matter,” the authors wrote.

Talk to your health care provider about how much activity you should do to attain or maintain physical health. You can find a Providence provider here.

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