Working out regularly is a goal for many, but work and life can make it challenging. Well, a new study has good news: You may get the same heart-health benefits from working out on just weekends (known as a weekend warrior) as you would if you exercised throughout the week.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends doing 150 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per week, which is echoed by the American Heart Association. MVPA includes brisk walking, dancing and gardening at the moderate end of the spectrum, and jogging, fast cycling, tennis and soccer at the vigorous end.
A new study compared patterns of physical activity behavior, looking at people who concentrated their moderate to vigorous physical activity over one to two days with those who spread their physical activity over the week.
“Our findings suggest that interventions to increase physical activity, even when concentrated within a day or two each week, may improve cardiovascular outcomes,” says senior author Patrick T. Ellinor, acting chief of cardiology and the co-director of the Corrigan Minehan Heart Center at MGH.
“Increased activity, even when concentrated within one to two days each week, may be effective for improving cardiovascular risk profiles,” the researchers concluded.
Public health guidelines recommend that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity every week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity. But it has been unclear whether the same benefits come from concentrated exercise or more regular, spread-out physical activity.
The study found that concentrated physical activity protected against heart attacks, heart failure, stroke, and atrial fibrillation (AFib), the most common form of irregular heartbeat. For adults between 18 and 64 years-old, a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise per week is what most health guidelines recommend. These milestones could be achieved with a brisk 30-minute walk five days a week, or an hour and 15-minute jog once a week.
Exercise has key benefits to healthTrusted Source, including reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and the risk of developing type two diabetes and metabolic syndrome. It may be difficult for some people to get regular physical activity throughout the week, leading to more intense physical activity on the weekends.
The benefits of being a weekend warrior
In addition to the cardiovascular benefits, the “weekend warrior” schedule is great for people who are short on time throughout the week. The findings show that it is possible to achieve heart health when physical activity is packed into a shorter amount of time. For people whose schedules prohibit them from exercising daily, this method can have similar effects.
“Whether you are a ‘weekend warrior’ or someone who spread out your activity throughout the week, you derive comparable protection from cardiovascular disease from exercise,” said Tanayan.
The study has also found that adopting a ‘weekend warrior’ pattern may be equally beneficial for people who find it difficult to find time to exercise during a busy work week.
Among participants, 33.7% were inactive (less than 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week), 42.2% were active weekend warriors (at least 150 minutes with at least half achieved in 1–2 days), and 24.0% were active-regular (at least 150 minutes with most exercise spread out over several days).
“Our findings suggest that interventions to increase physical activity, even when concentrated within a day or two each week, may improve cardiovascular outcomes,” said senior author Patrick T. Ellinor, acting chief of Cardiology and the co-director of the Corrigan Minehan Heart Center at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).
Participants also only wore the accelerometers for a week, which might not capture their most regular activity patterns, depending on the circumstances.
“Our findings suggest that it is likely the total duration of moderate to vigorous activity, rather than the pattern, that matters most for cardiovascular risk,” says the lead study author, Shaan Khurshid, MD, MPH, an electrophysiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
“The weekend warrior pattern has been studied previously, but typically relying on self-reported data, which may be biased, or too small to look at specific cardiovascular outcomes,” Khurshid said. The researchers wanted a more objective measure of how much exercise individuals were actually getting and also wanted to investigate the question in a much larger sample.
There are limitations in the study methodology, however. The population segment in the study was largely White, making it difficult to generalize to the population, said Dr. Andrew Freeman, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health in Denver. Freeman was not part of the research.
Consistent Exercise Benefits Heart Health No Matter When It Occurs
For the study, researchers had participants wear accelerometers for one week to see how much physical activity they got at moderate intensity — such as a brisk walk or biking on flat ground — or vigorous intensity — like a run or cycling on hills.
Ellinor and his colleagues focused on 89,573 of the participants who wore the accelerometers for a week, the majority of whom were followed for 6.3 years. The researchers characterized the participants as either weekend warriors, regular exercisers or as inactive.
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.
We’re all told time and again just how important it is to exercise for good health. But with our busy schedules, finding the time to work out is often easier said than done. For many of us, the weekend is the only time we can get to the gym or go for a run.
But this limitation doesn’t affect the takeaway of the study too much: Try to get 150 minutes of exercise a week, however you can, Dr. John McPherson, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville not involved in the new research, told NBC News.