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Weekend Warriors Aren't Exercising in Vain, at Least When It Comes to Their Heart
  • Posted July 18, 2023

Weekend Warriors Aren't Exercising in Vain, at Least When It Comes to Their Heart

It doesn't matter if you exercise every day or squeeze it all into the weekend. If you do the recommended 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a week, you'll get heart benefits, a new study finds.

Both regimens protect you from atrial fibrillation (a-fib), heart attack, heart failure and stroke, compared with inactivity, researchers reported in the July 18 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Our study suggests that it's the volume of activity, rather than the pattern, that matters most in terms of cardiovascular health,” said lead researcher Dr. Shaan Khurshid, a research fellow in medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Efforts to increase physical activity, whether they're spread out evenly or concentrated within a day or two each week, result in similar protective effects on several cardiovascular outcomes and overall cardiovascular health, he said.

"I think these findings should be encouraging, counter to the notion some people may feel that if they can only exercise, you know, once or twice a week they shouldn't do it at all, or not expect to have the benefit," Khurshid said.

This is good news for the legions of so-called weekend warriors. In this study of nearly 90,000 British adults, half of active individuals accrued most of their exercise in one to two days.

The study highlights the flexibility with which physical activity can be accumulated to achieve health benefit, said Peter Katzmarzyk, associate executive director of population and public health sciences at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La.

In general, any exercise is better than no exercise, said Katzmarzyk, co-author of an accompanying journal editorial.

"Every minute counts," he noted, adding no one should give up because they're not reaching established guidelines.

"The medical and public health community has focused on promoting 150 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity a week for the last couple of decades," said Katzmarzyk. Although this is an excellent target, 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines emphasize that many health benefits can be seen with activity levels below 150 minutes a week. "Even more recent studies also show this result," he added.

Doctors should work with their patients to develop physical activity goals that are appropriate for their age and health, even when they can't reach the goal of 150 minutes a week, Katzmarzyk suggested. "Increases in physical activity below the target range result in many health benefits, including a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death," he said.

For the study, Khurshid and his colleagues collected data on nearly 90,000 men and women, average age 62, who took part in the UK Biobank study between June 2013 and December 2015.

The investigators looked at three groups: people who exercise regularly, achieving 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week; people who cram that amount of exercise into one or two days; and inactive folks. All wore wristband exercise monitors for a week.

"Comparing active regular and active weekend warrior, we saw very similar reductions in four major outcomes, namely, heart attack, stroke, atrial fibrillation, and heart failure, suggesting that both activity patterns were associated with similar protective effects of those outcomes," Khurshid said.

Over roughly six years, heart attack risk was reduced by 27% for weekend warriors, and about 35% for those who spread their activity hours out more evenly. Both groups saw risk for a-fib, an abnormal heartbeat, drop by about 20%, and heart failure odds fell about 27%. Inactive individuals did not see these benefits. Similar results emerged from a sample looking at people who exercised a median of 230 minutes a week.

More information

For more on the importance of physical activity, head to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Shaan Khurshid, MD, MPH, research fellow in medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston; Peter Katzmarzyk, PhD, associate executive director, Population and Public Health Sciences, Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Baton Rouge, La.; Journal of the American Medical Association, July 18, 2023

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