At last some positive health news for those of us who struggle to squeeze in more than one or two workouts in each week.
A study of more than 60,000 adults in England and Scotland found that ‘weekend warriors’ – those who only exercise at the end of the working week – lowered their risk of death by a similar margin to those who spread the same amount of exercise over seven days.
“Millions of people enjoy doing sport once or twice a week, but they may be concerned that they are not doing enough,” says Gary O’Donovan, a physical activity researcher and author on the study at Loughborough University.
“We find a clear benefit. It’s making them fit and healthy.”
In the study, those who met the physical activity target by exercising through the week had a 35% lower risk of death than the inactive adults, with cardiovascular deaths down 41% and a 21% lower risk of cancer death.
But the weekend warriors also saw substantial health benefits if they met the physical activity target too.
Their overall risk of death was 30% lower than the sedentary adults, with the risk of cardiovascular and cancer deaths lower by 40% and 18% respectively.
“Weekend warriors are people who meet the recommended volume of physical activity each week through only one or two sessions. There are doing a large proportion of vigorous exercise and that makes you fitter than moderate exercise,” adds Gary.
Men and women benefited equally, according to the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine.
The results are based on medical data gathered for 63,591 adults aged 40 and above between 1994 and 2012. Nearly 9000 of the study participants died in the period.
For those who have resolved to get fit in the New Year, Gary recommends to start with moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, and then to set realistic, incremental goals to boost confidence without running the risk of setbacks due to injury.
“A middle aged or older person should do as much as 12 weeks of moderate exercise before introducing vigorous exercise,” he says.
Australia’s Department of Health says doing any physical activity is better than none.
Ideally, it recommends adults aged 18-64 are active most days, and should accumulate 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity, or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week.