Get It In When You Fit It In

Weekend Warrior Or Daily Exercise? It Doesn’t Matter For Heart Health

Good news for people who only work out on Saturdays and Sundays: You’re almost as heart healthy as daily fitness fanatics.

Athletic young man running on a bridge during sunset.
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For years, fitness fanatics have extolled the benefits of consistency: that it’s not so much about how you exercise, but that you do it regularly and with intention. But a new study finds that even consistency can look different than daily or every-other-day exercise — if what you care about is your heart health.

New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that weekend warriors — AKA people who only get their workouts or other strenuous activities in on the weekends, rather than throughout the week — saw similar cardiac benefits to those who exercised more regularly throughout the week.

Heart health guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity per week. But until now, researchers weren’t sure if there was a benefit to spreading those minutes out or logging them all in a short period of time, like, say, in the 36 hours that span Saturday morning to Sunday evening.

The research team analyzed UK Biobank data for 89,573 individuals who wore wrist monitors that recorded time spent being active and time spent at different activity intensity levels for a week. Forty-two percent of participants qualified as weekend warriors, logging most of their 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity in a one- to two-day period, while 24% of participants measured their 150 minutes over the week. The other 34% of participants were inactive.

The team found that weekend warriors and those who spread their activity out over the course of the week both had decreased risks of disease. Weekend warriors had a 27% decrease in the risk of heart attack, a 38% lower risk of heart failure, a 22% lower risk of atrial fibrillation, and a 21% lower risk of stroke than those who did not meet baseline activity standards. Participants who spread their activity out over the week had a 35% lower risk of heart attack, a 36% lower risk of heart failure, a 19% lower risk of atrial fibrillation, and a 17% lower risk of stroke. None of the differences in disease risk between these two groups were statistically significant.

“Our findings suggest that interventions to increase physical activity, even when concentrated within a day or two each week, may improve cardiovascular outcomes,” study co-author Patrick T. Ellinor, MD, Ph.D., chief of Cardiology and the co-director of the Corrigan Minehan Heart Center, said in a statement.

For working parents and other busy adults, these results show that hitting the gym on the weekend is just as beneficial as scheduling time for workouts during a workweek.

More research is needed to determine if these exercise patterns are protective against non-cardiovascular diseases.