People who fit an entire week’s recommended exercise into a few days have a similarly low risk of heart disease and stroke as those who spread out their physical activity, researchers say.
The results of a large study of “weekend warriors” against more regular exercisers suggest that even when people are too busy to exercise during the work week, catching up on weekend inactivity can still improve cardiovascular health.
“Our findings suggest that efforts to improve physical activity, even when concentrated within one to two days of the week, should be beneficial for cardiovascular risk,” said Dr. Patrick Ellinor, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital. in Boston. “It seems that the total volume of activity, rather than the pattern, is most important.”
Public health guidelines recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise each week. But it’s unclear whether the same benefits come from concentrated exercise or more regular, spaced physical activity.
The researchers analyzed medical records of nearly 90,000 people taking part in the UK Biobank project. They all wore an accelerometer on the wrist that recorded their physical activity for an entire week.
According to the study, one-third of the participants were inactive, meaning they did less than 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity per week, while 42% were classified as active weekend warriors, doing at least 150 minutes, usually over one or two days. Nearly a quarter of the individuals spread their training, doing at least 150 minutes over several days.
The team, led by Dr Shaan Khurshid, a cardiologist, found that both concentrated and spaced exercise were associated with lower cardiovascular health risks compared to inactivity. Heart attack risk was 27% lower for weekend warriors and 35% lower for those who spread their training over the week.
When the researchers looked at heart failure, the risk was 38% and 36% lower for weekend warriors and more regular exercisers, respectively. The risk of atrial fibrillation – abnormal heart rhythm – was 22% and 19% lower. For stroke it was 21% and 17% lower.
“Physical activity concentrated within one to two days was associated with a similarly lower risk of cardiovascular outcomes than more regular activity,” the authors write in the journal Jama. The work builds on other studies that have found health and fitness benefits from weekend exercise.
The researchers now want to investigate whether such concentrated exercise has similar benefits in a range of other diseases. “Our results may also provide motivation for future studies of physical activity interventions delivered in a concentrated manner, which may be more practical and efficient,” Ellinor said.
In an accompanying article, Prof. Peter Katzmarzyk of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana and Prof. John Jakicic of the University of Kansas Medical Center say the latest results highlight the flexibility with which physical activity can be built to improve health.
“There are clear benefits to achieving more than 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, but the public health message must also be clear that every minute counts,” they write.
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