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'Weekend Warrior' Workouts Are as Good as Regular Exercise

Squeezing all weekly exercise in one or two days may lower the risk for cardiovascular disease as effectively as physical activity distributed throughout the week, a new study finds.

"Weekend warrior" exercise pattern refers to achieving most of the recommended physical activity in one to two days instead of spreading exercise out over an entire week.

The federal guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week.

The investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital looked at data from 89,573 participants from the U.K. Biobank study. Their analysis published in the JAMA compared participants’ heart outcomes based on their exercising patterns.

Active weekenders were those engaging in physical activity 150 minutes or more per week and doing at least 50% of it over one or two days. Active regulars were considered those exercising no less than 150 minutes per week but distributing workouts more evenly. Participants in the inactive group were exercising less than 150 minutes per week.

Both activity patterns — active weekend exercise and active regular — were associated with similarly lower risks of incident atrial fibrillation (22% and 19% lower risks, respectively, compared to inactive), heart attack (27% and 35%), heart failure (38% and 36%), and stroke (21% and 17%).

A 2017 study suggests that the weekend warrior pattern is sufficient to reduce all-cause mortality by 30%, as well as deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Regular exercise strengthens the heart muscle, lowers blood pressure and bad cholesterol, reduces inflammation throughout the body and stress hormones, all leading to better cardiovascular health.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends combining moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity with strengthening and stretching exercises to achieve maximum benefits.

Moderate-intensity aerobic activities include:

  • Brisk walking (at least 2.5 miles per hour)
  • Water aerobics
  • Dancing (ballroom or social)
  • Gardening
  • Tennis (doubles)
  • Biking slower than 10 miles per hour

Vigorous-intensity aerobic activities are the following:

  • Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack
  • Running
  • Swimming laps
  • Aerobic dancing
  • Heavy yard work like continuous digging or hoeing
  • Tennis (singles)
  • Cycling 10 miles per hour or faster
  • Jumping rope

Regular exercise reduces the risk of multiple chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, and may prevent early death. However, absolute beginners should start slow with moderate-intensity training, such as walking.

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