Physical activity may decrease risk of cardiovascular and all-cause mortality

A pooled analysis found that adults known as “weekend warriors” who perform all of their exercise during one or two days of the week had a reduction in the risk of all-cause, cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality.

The results were similar even if participants had not previously adhered to physical activity guidelines.

Lead researcher Gary O’Donovan, PhD, of Loughborough University in England, and colleagues published their results online in JAMA Internal Medicine on Jan. 9.

The researchers mentioned that the World Health Organization recommends adults from 18 to 64 years old perform at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise or an equivalent combination.

This analysis included more than 63,000 participants in the Health Survey for England or the Scottish Health Survey during nine years from 1994 to 2008. The researchers only evaluated participants who were at least 40 years old.

Interviewers used a questionnaire and asked about participants’ physical activity during the four weeks before the interview, frequency and duration of physical activity, frequency, duration and pace of walking and participation in sports and exercises.

The mean age of participants was 58.6 years old, while 45.9 percent were male and more than 90 percent were white. At baseline, 62.8 percent of participants were inactive, 22.4 percent were insufficiently active, 11.1 percent were regularly active and 3.7 percent were “weekend warriors.”

During the follow-up period, there were a total of 2,208 deaths due to all causes, including 2,780 due to cardiovascular disease and 2,526 due to cancer.

Insufficiently active participants had a 31 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 37 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality compared with inactive participants. In addition, “weekend warrior” participants had a 30 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 40 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality compared with inactive participants. Further, regularly active participants had a 35 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 41 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease mortality compared with inactive participants.

The researchers acknowledged a few limitations of the study, including that more than 90 percent of participants were white, so the results might not be generalizable to other racial groups. They also only measured physical activity at baseline and could not account for changes in physical activity over time. In addition, they said the study could be affect by reverse causation, in which participants are less likely to be physically active if they are diagnosed with a disease. However, the mentioned that they excluded patients who died during the first two years of follow-up, adjusted for long-standing illness, cardiovascular disease and cancer and baseline and performed sensitivity analysis to address the reverse causation issue.

“This large, statistically powerful study suggests that different leisure time physical activity patterns are associated with reduced risks for all-cause, [cardiovascular disease], and cancer mortality,” the researchers wrote. “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, [cardiovascular disease] and cancer mortality regardless of adherence to prevailing physical activity guidelines.”