How weekend workouts can be just as beneficial as exercising throughout the week

If you don’t have time to exercise during the week, long workouts on the weekend are good for the heart.

Adults should get 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week Guidelines suggest, with the general advice of spreading it out throughout the week. Harvard researchers found that those who staggered their 2.5 hours of activity for one or two days reduced their risk of heart attack by 27%, compared to 35% in those who exercised most days of the week. “Weekend warriors” had a 38% reduced risk of heart failure, compared with 36% among regular exercisers, a new study published Tuesday in JAMA found.

“The idea that you could cram it all into one weekend or two days a week was a little surprising,” said the study co-author Dr. Patrick Eleanorsaid acting chairman of the Department of Cardiology at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The bottom line is, “The goal is to get 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week, however you get there.”

The researchers then turned to look closely at how timing of exercise made the difference UK BiobankA widely used database of 502,629 participants aged 40 to 69 enrolled between 2006 and 2010. For the new research, a subset of the team agreed to wear wrist-mounted accelerometers that measure physical activity 24 hours a day.

Eleanor and her colleagues focused on 89,573 participants who wore accelerometers for a week, most of whom were followed for 6.3 years. Researchers classified participants as weekend exercisers, regular exercisers, or inactive.

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A major limitation of the study is that the activity data was collected over one week, so they don’t know whether the participants continued the same exercise regimen during the follow-up period, Eleanor said.

Still, the bottom line is that people should get 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each week, “and they can get it,” said Dr. John McPherson, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

McPherson, who wasn’t involved in the new research, says it can be grouped into two days or 25 to 30 minutes each day. “Maintaining 150 minutes a week is critical.”

How to Avoid Injuries During Exercise

An argument against compressing workouts into two days is the increased chance of injury in some studies of weekend athletes. But experts say that those who follow an exercise program and warm up and cool down properly can avoid such injuries.

If you’re going to finish your workout in two days, you really need to build it up, said Keith Diaz, an exercise physiologist and associate professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons.

“The biggest concern is overuse injuries,” said Diaz, who was not involved in the new research. “You can’t go from zero to 60 in two days. There are plenty of weekend players with no injuries, but their bodies are used to it.”

The type of action you take is also important, Diaz said. If you’re choosing something you like to do, low-impact activities like swimming and biking are better choices because they’re less likely to damage joints, she added.

Because adults begin to lose fitness after three days of inactivity, limiting exercise to the weekend may not be the path to peak physical performance, Diaz said.

“You’re fighting the body’s tendency to revert to disuse,” he explained.

The new study offers good news, said Glen Keser, professor of exercise physiology in the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University.

“As long as people are getting at least moderate to vigorous activity, it doesn’t really matter how people cut their exercise during the week,” Gasser said.

For those concerned that exercising only one or two days a week could raise the risk of injury, Kasser, who was not involved in the new research, said previous research has mostly come from contact sports.

Calling those in the study “weekend warriors is somewhat misleading because most are not doing ‘warrior’ activities,” Keser said. “Most people do regular cardiovascular activities like walking and cycling. Those who participate in contact sports are more likely to get injured.”

To avoid injuries from prolonged exercise, pay attention to what your body is telling you, said Dr. Gregory Katz, MD, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Heart and an assistant professor of medicine at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

“Don’t ignore that nagging pain,” said Katz, who was not involved in the new study. “Does it feel like something straining or harmful that you have to put into your body?”

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