December 9, 2023

For those who struggle to find time to exercise during the week and prefer to do most of their exercise on the weekends, a new study finds that being a “weekend warrior” can still be effective in reducing cardiovascular disease risk.

We all know the health benefits of physical activity: improving brain health and mood, controlling weight, reducing disease risk, and strengthening bones and muscles.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends 150 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per week, and the American Heart Association agrees. MVPA includes moderate-intensity brisk walking, dancing, and gardening, and vigorous-intensity jogging, brisk cycling, tennis, and soccer.

The UK’s National Health Service recommends exercising evenly on four to five days a week. But what if other commitments — such as work, kids, or school — are reserved for weekend exercise? Can you still reap the health benefits? A new study from Massachusetts General Hospital answers that question, and it holds promise for so-called “weekend warriors.”

Weekend Warriors complete 50 percent or more of the recommended 150-minute MVPA on one or two days of the week. The researchers wanted to know whether concentrated physical activity produced the same positive health effects as more evenly distributed activity.

They examined data from the UK Biobank study of 89,573 individuals who had their activity measured between 2013 and 2015. Participants wore wrist accelerometers that recorded their total physical activity and time spent at different exercise intensities over the course of a week. A total of 37,872 participants (42.2%) were in the Weekend Warrior group, 21,473 participants (24%) were in the Regular Activity group, and 30,228 participants (33.7%) were in the Inactive group, with less than 150 minutes of MVPA per week.

Both weekend warriors and regular activity patterns were associated with reduced risk of common cardiovascular diseases compared with the inactive group. Heart attack risk was reduced by 27 percent in the weekend warrior group and by 35 percent in the usual activity group. The risk of heart failure was reduced by 38% and 36%, respectively, the risk of atrial fibrillation and arrhythmia was reduced by 22% and 19%, and the risk of stroke was reduced by 21% and 17%.

“Our findings suggest that interventions that increase physical activity, even when concentrated on one or two days per week, may improve cardiovascular outcomes,” said study co-author Patrick Ellinor.

The researchers note some limitations of their study. Physical activity was measured over a period of one week, and participants may have changed their behavior during the observation period. Furthermore, the use of a predominantly white British sample may limit the generalizability of the study.

Nonetheless, the study highlights that physical activity can be achieved in different, flexible ways throughout the week to reap the health benefits.

“It is also important to recognize that there are differences in responses to physical activity,” Peter Katzmarzyk and John Jakicic, who were not involved in the study, said in a joint review article on the study. “Some individuals may experience substantial health benefits with lower levels of physical activity, while others may require higher levels of physical activity to achieve these benefits. Therefore, these factors need to be considered, and initial intervention goals should focus on encouraging exercise as a way to increase physical activity levels, rather than promoting 150 to 300 minutes of physical activity per week to optimize health.”

Further research is needed to see whether weekend warrior workouts are associated with a lower risk of other types of disease.

The study was published in JAMAas Comment draft.

source: Massachusetts General Hospital