An investigation published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on July 18 has some encouraging news for those of us who wait until the weekend to work out.
Titled “Accelerometer-Derived “Weekend Warrior” Physical Activity and Incident Cardiovascular Disease,” it drew from an analysis of almost 90,000 participants in UK Biobank, a massive-scale long-term research resource, whose activity data was tracked for a week via an Axivity AX3, a wrist-based accelerometer.
Researchers quantified their activity, and noticed a “weekend warrior,” pattern was common, where people did most of their WHO-recommended 150 minutes of “moderate to vigorous physical activity” on their days off. These weekend warriors, compared to those who split their minutes of activity throughout the week, had a similarly lower risk of cardiovascular outcomes (like stroke or heart attack.)
“It appears that it is the total volume of activity, rather than the pattern, that matters most,” Dr. Patrick Ellinor, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and co-author of the paper, told The Guardian. Future studies, the investigation said, are warranted to determine how incremental increases in exercise can improve cardiovascular outcomes.
The paper highlights previous concerns that “weekend warrior” shaped exercise patterns might be associated with increased instances of musculoskeletal injury, which probably makes sense to anyone who plays in a Sunday soccer league that tends to get extremely violent despite the referee’s insistence that everyone just has fun.
In this investigation, “similarly lower risk of musculoskeletal conditions with both activity patterns was observed,” but said more research is needed to assess the risks of concentrated activity.
There are probably additional benefits—like stress relief—to exercise dispersed throughout the week. But one or two days with considerable movement feels much more achievable, especially for people with a demanding work schedule.
The underlying message of the investigation is that exercise is good, and you shouldn’t worry about when you exercise: If you get it in when and where you can, it seems like you’ll be in pretty good shape.