- Exercising only on weekends — known as the weekend warrior — is still good for your heart, a new study has found.
- Researchers found that weekend warriors had similar heart health to those who exercised more regularly.
- This isn’t the first study to find that a bout of concentrated exercise can still be helpful for heart health.
Working out regularly is a goal for many, but work and life can make it difficult. Well, a new study has some good news: You can get the same heart health benefits from exercising only on the weekends (called the weekend warrior) as if you exercised throughout the week.
The study, which was published in JAMA, analyzed data from more than 89,000 people who participated in the UK Biobank (a biomedical database) and used accelerometers to track their movements over a week. The researchers specifically looked at the relationship between participants’ exercise habits and self-reported heart problems.
The study found that people who concentrated their exercise efforts on weekends had the same reduced risk of heart disease, including myocardial infarction (heart attack), heart failure and stroke, as those who spread their workouts out throughout the week.
“Increased activity, even concentrated on one to two days per week, may be effective in improving cardiovascular risk profiles,” the researchers concluded.
THE Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. While most people tend to think of this as requiring working out a certain number of minutes or hours per day over the course of a week, the guidelines don’t specify how that time should be allocated.
But why might so-called weekend warriors have similar heart health to people who exercise more frequently? Here’s the deal.
Why can exercising on weekends be as beneficial as daily exercise?
It’s important to note that the study didn’t find out why this was the case, it just found a link. However, doctors say the results seem to indicate that getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise is what matters.
“Our results suggest that efforts to improve physical activity, even if focused on one to two days of the week, should benefit cardiovascular risk,” says study co-author Patrick T. Ellinor, MD, Ph.D., acting chief of cardiology at Massachusetts General Hospital and director of the Cardiovascular Disease Initiative at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. “It seems that it is the total volume of activity, rather than the model, that matters most.” Basically, the results indicate that you could do two 75-minute workouts over the weekend or some variation thereof and still have good heart health.
Exercise as a whole is important for cardiovascular health, and it just may be the case no matter when you do it, says John Bahadorani, MD, board-certified interventional cardiologist at the MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute at Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California. “It has a positive impact on the heart and blood vessels,” he says. “Regular physical activity strengthens the heart muscle, lowers blood pressure, lowers bad cholesterol (LDL) and raises good cholesterol (HDL).”
Exercising whenever you can can help someone maintain a healthy weight, improve blood circulation, and improve their ability to use oxygen efficiently, says Dr. Bahadorani, and all contribute to good heart health.
Dr. Bahadorani points out that there are some limitations to this study to be aware of. The first is that people were only followed for a week and may have adjusted their behavior during that time. Another is that the precision of how vigorously people exercised might be difficult to measure.
But this isn’t the first study to suggest that working out on weekends is as effective as working out all week. A study of more than 350,000 people published in JAMA last year found very little difference in the risks of death from all causes, or from cancer or cardiovascular disease in weekend warriors against those who go to the gym during the week.
What do doctors recommend regarding exercise and heart health?
Most doctors suggest that you just do what you can. Dr. Bahadorani recommends finding a form of exercise that you enjoy, considering options like walking, swimming, dancing, or cycling. This, he says, “makes it easier to stick to a routine.”
He says it’s also a good idea to set realistic goals. “Start with achievable goals and gradually increase intensity and duration as your fitness level improves,” he says. It can help to create a schedule for workouts and recruit friends, while mixing up your workouts to avoid boredom, he says.
Dr. Ellinor says he and his team want to continue studying the benefits of weekend-only exercise. “We plan to assess whether weekend warrior-like activity has similar benefits over other diseases across human conditions,” says Dr. Ellinor. “Our findings may also motivate future studies of physical activity interventions performed in a concentrated manner, which may be more practical and effective.”
Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, health and sex, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamour, and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives near the beach, and hopes to one day own a teacup pig and a taco truck.