Occasional Exercise—Does it Do Any Good?

Busy schedules and often overwhelming responsibilities have paved the way for a particular type of exerciser known as the weekend warrior. Weekend warriors go hard and fast with strenuous activity, but only on the weekends (or 1 or 2 times during the week). Studies show that regular, more frequent exercise is the most beneficial, but how does the weekend warrior fare?

woman running with her dog at sunset

Exercise Improves Your Health, Period

Researchers from Loughborough University in the United Kingdom examined survey results from 63,591 people, 40 years and older, who participated in the Health Survey for England and The Scottish Health Survey. A 2004 study from the American Journal of Epidemiology noted that people who exercised 1 to 2 times a week decreased their risk of death. Following on the heels of that study, this latest analysis revealed the link between mortality rates and exercise patterns, including weekend warrior habits.

Researchers separated participants into 4 groups. The regularly active group got the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, performed over 3 or more sessions a week. The weekend warriors exercised at moderate-intensity for at least 150 minutes a week, or exercised at strenuous-intensity for 75 minutes a week, but clocked in the minutes in just 1 or 2 sessions a week. The insufficiently active group exercised for less than the 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, and the inactive group did not exercise at all.

The research spanned from 1994-2012, during which 8,802 people died (2,780 deaths were from cardiovascular disease and 2,526 were from cancer). A few notable trends emerged. The weekend warriors were mainly men, and the men and women in the inactive group were more prone to smoking and chronic illness. It should also be noted that 90% of participants were Caucasian.

5 people cycling across a bridgeResults showed that compared to the inactive group, all other groups—active, weekend warriors, and insufficiently active—showed a reduction in overall mortality risk. The weekend warriors enjoyed a similar risk reduction to the regularly active participants. Compared to inactive participants, weekend warriors had a 30% reduced risk of overall mortality, a 40% reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD), and an 18% reduced risk of death from cancer.

The authors of the study concluded:

“The weekend warrior and other physical activity patterns characterized by one or two sessions per week of moderate- or vigorous-intensity physical activity may be sufficient to reduce risks for all-cause, CVD, and cancer mortality regardless of adherence to prevailing physical activity guidelines.”

While the study appears to show a positive correlation between weekend warrior exercise habits and reduced mortality risk, it doesn’t reveal in what ways a weekend warrior lifestyle may be influencing aspects of health such as blood pressure, diabetes risk, lipid profile, mental health, and weight maintenance. It also doesn’t shed light on how effective weekend warrior activities are at contributing to fitness measures such as strength, flexibility, and endurance, or how such strenuous, infrequent activity may increase injury risk.