Stay ac­tive, even if it’s just week­ends

Pawtucket Times - - FRONT PAGE - By AMBY BURFOOT Spe­cial to The Wash­ing­ton Post

Maybe you’re skat­ing in an over-40 hockey league, or maybe you get to­gether with the guys for a pretty in­tense game of hoops ev­ery Satur­day. Ei­ther way, stud­ies say there’s ben­e­fit to be­ing a ‘Week­end War­rior.’

Health and fit­ness ex­perts have long de­scribed "week­end war­riors" in a mildly neg­a­tive way. They used the term for in­di­vid­u­als who ex­er­cised ir­reg­u­larly, per­haps in week­end pickup games. They warned of mus­cle strains, or much worse – some­thing akin to the heart at­tacks suf­fered by those who oc­ca­sion­ally shovel snow.

Week­end war­rior meant, more or less, "knuck­le­head." But no more. A large new study in JAMA In­ter­nal Medicine has re­vealed large mor­tal­ity ben­e­fits for all man­ner of week­end war­riors.

Those who worked out once or twice a week had a 30 per­cent lower mor­tal­ity rate (dur­ing the study pe­riod, from 1994 to 2012) than those who didn't ex­er­cise at all. De­spite their in­fre­quent work­outs, th­ese in­di­vid­u­als ex­ceeded the 150 min­utes a week of mod­er­ate to vig­or­ous ex­er­cise ad­vo­cated by U.S. and world health or­ga­ni­za­tions. In that re­gard, their good re­sults might have been ex­pected.

The study was based on more than 63,000 Bri­tish and Scot­tish adults with an av­er­age age of 58. A re­search team from the United King­dom, Aus­tralia and Har­vard Univer­sity col­lab­o­rated on the anal­y­sis.

"We were sur­prised to find that car­dio­vas­cu­lar and cancer mor­tal­ity were also lower among the week­end war­riors," says lead au­thor Gary O'Dono­van, from Lough­bor­ough Univer­sity in Eng­land. "In­ter­est­ingly, we also found the ben­e­fits are much the same in men and women."

An­other sub­group of the 63,000, termed the "in­suf­fi­cient ex­er­cis­ers," fared just as well as the week­end war­riors. The in­suf­fi­cients ac­cu­mu­lated only 60 min­utes of ex­er­cise per week, less than half of the rec­om­mended amount. Yet they reaped a 31 per­cent lower mor­tal­ity rate vs. the non-ex­er­cis­ers.

The great­est re­wards came to those who ex­er­cised three or more times a week. Th­ese in­di­vid­u­als tended to go longer and slower than less-fre­quent ex­er­cis­ers but logged im­pres­sive weekly to­tals of about 450 min­utes. They had a 35 per­cent lower all-cause mor­tal­ity rate.

"This study is im­por­tant be­cause it tells us that the to­tal amount of ex­er­cise, rather than how of­ten it is done, is the rel­e­vant factor," coau­thor and Har­vard epi­demi­ol­o­gist I-Min Lee says. "It gives per­mis­sion, if you will, to be a week­end war­rior. How­ever, we would pre­fer reg­u­lar ac­tiv­ity over the week to de­crease the risk of in­juries."

The JAMA ar­ti­cle did not track the in­ci­dence of in­jury. But in­juries couldn't have been too great of an ob­sta­cle, or the week­end war­riors wouldn't have been able to con­tinue their rou­tine and reap the gains.

A large ma­jor­ity of the sub­jects, 63 per­cent, re­ported no ex­er­cise, while 22 per­cent were la­beled in­suf­fi­cient ex­er­cis­ers. The week­end war­riors amounted to just 3.7 per­cent of the to­tal sub­ject pop­u­la­tion, but that equated to 2,341 peo­ple, thanks to the study's large size. Eleven per­cent of sub­jects were reg­u­lar ex­er­cis­ers, get­ting in three or more work­outs per week.

In the United States, the lat­est re­port by the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion in­di­cates that 51 per­cent of adults don't meet the guide­lines for aer­o­bic ac­tiv­ity and that 79 per­cent don't meet the guide­lines for aer­o­bics plus strength work.

Many midlife peo­ple with ac­tive fam­ily lives and bur­geon­ing ca­reers find it dif­fi­cult to make time for reg­u­lar work­outs. As a re­sult, fit­ness ad­vo­cates of­ten en­cour­age a small­steps ap­proach to ex­er­cise.

Don't be dis­cour­aged if you don't have the time to train for a half-marathon, they ad­vise. Fo­cus on what you can do, not what you can't. Any­thing is bet­ter than noth­ing. The new re­search seems to con­firm this.

Be­fore 2008, U.S. ac­tiv­ity guide­lines urged three to five work­outs a week – three if they were vig­or­ous, five if more mod­er­ate. This changed in 2008 with a new set of guide­lines that dropped the fre­quency rec­om­men­da­tion. In­stead, the new guide­lines em­pha­size to­tal min­utes per week – 75 if you do vig­or­ous ex­er­cise, such as run­ning, or 150 for more mod­er­ate ex­er­cise, such as walk­ing.

This has led to a va­ri­ety of pop­u­lar new ap­proaches such as HIT (high-in­ten­sity train­ing) work­outs, CrossFit and seven-minute apps. They have not been around long enough for any­one to track in­jury rates or life­time pay­offs. Still, the new pro­grams are aimed at help­ing peo­ple get fit­ter with a more mod­est time in­vest­ment.

"Our re­sults show that week­end war­rior and other ac­tiv­ity pat­terns may pro­vide health ben­e­fits even when they fall short of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity guide­lines," says study co-au­thor Em­manuel Sta­matakis, from the Univer­sity of Syd­ney. "This can in­clude pro­grams with just one or two ses­sions per week.”

“This study is im­por­tant be­cause it tells us that the to­tal amount of ex­er­cise, rather than how of­ten it is done, is the rel­e­vant factor. It gives per­mis­sion, if you will, to be a week­end war­rior.” — I-Min Lee, Har­vard epi­demi­ol­o­gist

Wash­ing­ton Post/iStockphoto

A week­end pickup game has more ben­e­fits than once thought, ac­cord­ing to a new study in JAMA In­ter­nal Medicine.

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