'Weekend warrior' workouts tied to longer life

(Reuters Health) - When it comes to workouts, exercising only on the weekends is still better than doing nothing at all, a study suggests.

Compared with inactive adults, people who get any amount of exercise may live longer, according to the study of middle-aged adults in the UK and Scotland.

With some activity, but less than the minimum weekly recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of intense workouts, people were 34 percent less likely to die during the study period compared to people who didn’t exercise at all.

Weekend warriors who crammed the minimum amount of weekly exercise into one or two workouts were 30 percent less likely to die during the study.

“The weekend warriors in our study undertook a large proportion of vigorous-intensity exercise, and quality may be more important than quantity,” said lead study author Gary O’Donovan of Loughborough University in the UK.

“Vigorous-intensity exercise improves aerobic fitness more than the same amount of moderate-intensity exercise,” O’Donovan added by email. “And, two bouts of vigorous-intensity exercise per week are sufficient to maintain aerobic fitness.”

Plenty of research has shown the benefits of physical activity, and the potential health hazards of an extremely sedentary lifestyle. O’Donovan and colleagues designed the current study to see how waiting for the weekends to exercise might influence longevity.

For the current study, researchers analyzed survey data collected on 63,591 people from 1994 to 2012 to see how different exercise patterns influence the risk of death from all causes, heart disease and cancer.

Participants were 59 years old on average, and they were typically followed for almost nine years.

During the study period, there were 8,802 deaths from all causes, 2,780 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 2,526 from cancer.

Regular exercisers who got several workouts a week and got the minimum recommended amount of activity, were 35 percent less likely to die during the study period than people who got no exercise at all, researches report n JAMA Internal Medicine.

Compared with inactive people, participants who got a little exercise were 37 percent less likely to die of cardiovascular causes during the study, weekend warriors were 40 percent less likely to die, and routine exercisers were 41 percent less likely to die.

For cancer, the odds of dying were 14 percent lower among slightly active people, 18 percent lower for weekend warriors, and 21 percent lower for routine exercisers.

The study is observational and doesn’t prove exercise reduces the odds of death or that a weekend workout routine can cause fewer deaths than other patterns of exercise, the authors note. Exercise habits were also self-reported, and most participants were white, which may limit how much the results would apply to the general population.

Current exercise recommendations suggest spreading activity throughout the week because this can help with health outcomes like blood pressure, mood, and the ability to process sugars, noted Hannah Arem, a public health researcher at George Washington University and author of an accompanying editorial.

“The ideal exercise routine will depend on the individual’s health status and goals,” Arem said by email.

Meeting the minimum recommended amount of weekly exercise might mean walking a 20-minute mile each day, taking a leisurely 45-minute bike ride twice a week, swimming at a moderate pace for 35 minutes twice a week, or running a 10-minute mile for 45 minutes over the course of a week, Arem added.

“These guidelines focus on total amount of activity after accounting for intensity, rather than specifying prescriptions for when exercise should be performed,” Arem said. “For people who have to condense exercise into 1-2 sessions per week but meet the guideline minimum, they will still reap a big health benefit – a 30 percent lower risk of death compared to those who do not exercise.”

SOURCE: JAMA Internal Medicine, online January 9, 2017.