Weekend warriors win important health benefits

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Weekend warrior and other physical activity patterns characterised by one or two weekly sessions may be sufficient to reduce all-cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality risks, regardless of adherence to prevailing physical activity guidelines, found a large data study from the universities of Loughborough and Sydney.

Cramming all your recommended weekly exercise into one or two weekend sessions is enough to produce important health benefits, BBC News reports a study suggests. And being active without managing 150 minutes of moderate activity a week was still enough to reduce the risk of an early death by a third.

The findings are based on a survey of about 64,000 adults aged over 40 in England and Scotland where researchers from Loughborough University and the University of Sydney analysed data on the time people spent doing exercise and their health over 18 years. They found that no matter how often people exercised in a week or for how long, the health benefits were similar as long as they met the activity guidelines.

The report says this was good news for people with a busy lifestyle who turned into “weekend warriors” in order to fit in all their recommended physical activity, they said. Compared with those who didn’t exercise at all, people who did some kind of physical activity – whether regularly or irregularly – showed a lower risk of dying from cancer and from cardiovascular disease (CVD), which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

“Weekend warriors”, who did all their exercise on one or two days of the week, were found to lower their risk of dying from CVD by 41% and cancer by 18%, compared with the inactive. Those who exercised regularly on three or more days per week reduced their risks by 41% and 21%. Even the “insufficiently active” lowered their risk by a significant amount – 37% and 14%, the researchers said.

Dr Gary O’Donovan, study author and expert in physical activity and health, from Loughborough University, said the key was doing exercise that was “purposeful, and done with the intention of improving health”. “You are not going to fidget or stand your way to health,” he said. He added that a commitment to an active lifestyle was usually accompanied by other healthy lifestyle options, which made a positive difference regardless of body mass index (BMI).

The report says the study cannot show a direct link between physical activity and a reduction in health risks in individuals. But extensive research has shown that exercise and a healthy diet can reduce the risk of a range of diseases – such as cancer, heart disease and type-2 diabetes – as well as helping to control weight, blood pressure and reduce symptoms of depression.

Justin Varney, national lead for adult health and wellbeing at Public Health England, said: “The maximum health benefits are achieved from 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. “However, every little counts and just 10 minutes of physical activity will provide health benefits.”

Abstract
Importance: More research is required to clarify the association between physical activity and health in “weekend warriors” who perform all their exercise in 1 or 2 sessions per week.
Objective: To investigate associations between the weekend warrior and other physical activity patterns and the risks for all-cause, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and cancer mortality.
Design, Setting, and Participants: This pooled analysis of household-based surveillance studies included 11 cohorts of respondents to the Health Survey for England and Scottish Health Survey with prospective linkage to mortality records. Respondents 40 years or older were included in the analysis. Data were collected from 1994 to 2012 and analyzed in 2016.
Exposures: Self-reported leisure time physical activity, with activity patterns defined as inactive (reporting no moderate- or vigorous-intensity activities), insufficiently active (reporting Main Outcomes and Measures: All-cause, CVD, and cancer mortality ascertained from death certificates.
Results: Among the 63 591 adult respondents (45.9% male; 44.1% female; mean [SD] age, 58.6 [11.9] years), 8802 deaths from all causes, 2780 deaths from CVD, and 2526 from cancer occurred during 561 159 person-years of follow-up. Compared with the inactive participants, the hazard ratio (HR) for all-cause mortality was 0.66 (95% CI, 0.62-0.72) in insufficiently active participants who reported 1 to 2 sessions per week, 0.70 (95% CI, 0.60-0.82) in weekend warrior participants, and 0.65 (95% CI, 0.58-0.73) in regularly active participants. Compared with the inactive participants, the HR for CVD mortality was 0.60 (95% CI, 0.52-0.69) in insufficiently active participants who reported 1 or 2 sessions per week, 0.60 (95% CI, 0.45-0.82) in weekend warrior participants, and 0.59 (95% CI, 0.48-0.73) in regularly active participants. Compared with the inactive participants, the HR for cancer mortality was 0.83 (95% CI, 0.73-0.94) in insufficiently active participants who reported 1 or 2 sessions per week, 0.82 (95% CI, 0.63-1.06) in weekend warrior participants, and 0.79 (95% CI, 0.66-0.94) in regularly active participants.
Conclusions and Relevance: Weekend warrior and other leisure time physical activity patterns characterized by 1 or 2 sessions per week may be sufficient to reduce all-cause, CVD, and cancer mortality risks regardless of adherence to prevailing physical activity guidelines.

Authors
Gary O’Donovan; I-Min Lee; Mark Hamer; Emmanuel Stamatakis

BBC News report
JAMA Internal Medicine abstract
JAMA Invited commentary


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