Compared with those are physically inactive, ‘weekend warriors’ or those who only exercise once or twice a week have a significantly lower risk of death from cancer and cardiovascular disease, even if they did not meet the physical activity guidelines.The researchers also found little difference in health outcomes between the weekend warriors and those who exercise regularly throughout the week.
For instance, the risk of premature death of any cause was 30 per cent lower in weekend warriors and 35 per cent lower in the regularly active. The risk of death by cardiovascular disease was reduced by the same amount (41 per cent) in weekend warriors and the regularly active while the risk of early death by cancer was 18 per cent and 21 per cent lower respectively.
The study’s lead author, Emmanuel Stamatakis, of the Charles Perkins Centre, suspects that the type of activity that the majority (94 per cent) of the weekend warriors participated in – various sports – explains the results.
“The weekend warriors did so well because of increased vigorous physical activity,” Stamatakis said. “That’s a possible explanation.”
The World Health Organisation recommends that adults do at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, or at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity activity. Surpassing these guidelines leads to additional health benefits.
While researchers do not yet know exactly how much of a difference the breakdown of frequency and intensity of the exercise makes, this new study shows that how we do it is secondary to just doing it, says Stamatakis.
He does note however that they were looking at specific outcomes (premature death) and that the frequency of exercise is still important to other outcomes, like diabetes. Diabetics are advised to exercise at least three days a week and avoid more than two consecutive days without exercising.
“The key message from our study is a little is better than nothing,” says Stamatakis od the research published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. “It highlights that a little physical activity can go a long way.”
Statamakis points out that for people who go from being physically inactive to even 10 to 20 minutes of brisk walking a week “the benefits are phenomenal” and include improved mood, musculo-skeletal function and a reduced risk of chronic disease.
This is significant given about 60 per cent of Australian adults do not meet the exercise guidelines and physical inactivity (low levels of physical activity) is the fourth leading cause of death due to non-communicable disease worldwide.
The more we move the better, but the important message is that however we get there, starting and finding something we enjoy enough to stick with long-term is the key to turning these grave statistics around, Stamatakis says.
“The study is very encouraging that there are many different ways to get the benefits from physical activity.”