Space & Innovation

Saving All Your Exercise for the Weekend Counts Too

We all know we're supposed to get daily exercise, but new research finds saving it all for the weekend can also improve health and lengthen life.

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It's Monday, so if you're a weekend warrior that might mean you have achy legs or arms from the physical activities you packed into the weekend.

Most are aware the recommended guidelines call for consistent exercise throughout the week. But many are also just busy - until the weekend. Well, now there's good news.

New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that being a weekend warrior - not just a consistent exerciser - can offer significant long-term health benefits, lowering the risk of early death from cancer and heart disease.

The World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that adults do at least 150 minutes per week of moderate activity, or at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity, or equivalent combinations.

The research followed more than 63,000 men and women from England and Scotland over the age of 40 between 1994 and 2012 to find out if it mattered whether people do their allotted weekly exercise throughout the week - or keep it all for two days at week's end.

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The researchers found that the risk of death dropped for everyone who exercised, regardless of when they got their workouts in. Weekend warriors' risk of dying from all causes was about 30 percent less than it was for inactive adults; their risk of dying from cancer was 18 percent lower, and risk of cardiovascular disease death was about 40 percent lower.

"Our study shows that the risk for all-cause mortality is significantly lower in weekend warriors than the inactive participants," the authors, including Gary O'Donovan of England's Loughborough University, wrote.

The research reinforces findings from a smaller 2004 study of Harvard alumni that found among 8,421 men, weekend warriors had a lower mortality rate than those who skipped exercise altogether.

But before weekend warriors pat themselves on the back too much, take note: Those who stayed active throughout the week showed a greater reduced risk of death (35 percent). Also, the reduced rate of death was basically the same for weekend warriors and those who got some exercise - but not the weekly recommended requirement - on three or more days per week.

"That suggests the biggest bang for the buck is just going from none to some physical activity," Hannah Arem, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at George Washington University, told Seeker.

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Arem, who wrote an accompanying commentary about the study in JAMA, also pointed out that the new research, while encouraging, was also somewhat limited. First, it was based only on people's one-time reports of their level of activities. It also only looked at the effect that frequency of exercise may have on mortality.

If you're concerned with other factors, including preventing diabetes, hypertension or depression, then she suggests you may want to consider more than whether you get all your workouts in on the weekends.

"Additional activity at regular frequency has the potential to yield even greater benefits," she said. "And the type of activity you choose and how often you do it depends on your goals."

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