“Weekend Warriors” May Live Longer than Nonexercisers
By Maureen Williams, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (November 18, 2004)—Healthy men who exercise intensively one to two times per week have a lower risk of death from any cause than men who don’t exercise, according to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology (2004;160:636–41).
Exercise is perhaps the most powerful tool for improving health, preventing disease, and prolonging life. Exactly how much is needed is not clear, but research to date suggests that the benefits of exercise might be achieved with an average of 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per day. The ideal exercise regimen is also still in question, but it is a long-held perception that daily or almost daily exercise is more likely to be healthful than infrequent bouts of intensive exercise. The term “weekend warriors” refers to people who don’t exercise daily but instead engage in intensive activity once or twice per week. Weekend warriors may spend a similar amount of time and energy exercising each week as people who exercise daily, but the health effects of this type of exercise program have not been studied.
In the current study, the exercise practices and risk of death of 8,421 men were observed for nine years. Participants did not have heart disease, cancer, or diabetes upon entering the study. Their exercise patterns were determined through a questionnaire given at the beginning of the study and after five years. They were further questioned about their age, height, weight, dietary and smoking habits, nutritional supplement use, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and family history of death before age 65.
At the end of the study, sedentary men (500 calories or less energy expended through exercise per week) were found to be at highest risk of death from any cause, and regularly active men (1,000 calories or more energy expended through exercise per week) were at lowest risk. The risk of death in insufficiently active men (500 to 1,000 calories of energy expended through exercise per week) and weekend warriors (1,000 calories or more energy expended through exercise per week, concentrated in one or two sessions) were slightly lower than that of sedentary men, but these differences did not reach statistical significance. Further analysis, however, revealed that weekend warrior men who were not overweight, did not smoke, and did not have high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels had a risk of death similar to regularly exercising men. Interestingly, the presence of risk factors did not inhibit exercise benefits in men who exercised regularly, but weekend warrior men who had any one of these risk factors had a risk of death similar to that of sedentary men.
These findings add to the evidence that, in general, regular exercise is the best way to prolong life, but they also suggest that men who do not have major risk factors will benefit similarly from sporadic bursts of intensive exercise as from regular exercise. This weekend warrior pattern of activity might represent a realistic option for men who are inclined to exercise but feel their time day to day is limited.
Men who want to engage in weekend warrior exercise practices should consult a healthcare provider, because those who are overweight or smokers, or who have high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels are not likely to benefit from this type of exercise. Men with any of these risk factors should be encouraged to exercise regularly rather than sporadically. Weekend warriors should also be aware that the risk of sprains, strains, and muscle injuries, which was not evaluated in this study, could be higher for sporadic exercisers than for men who exercise frequently. The effects of various exercise patterns on the long-term health of women should also be examined in future studies.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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