Weekly Workout to Weekend Warrior, Any Amount Lowers Cancer Death Risk, Finds Study

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Exercising even small amounts is better than doing nothing. But how often and how intense that exercise should be is a big area of study.

Now comes a study that suggests whether you take that brisk walk a couple times a week for half an hour, every weekday or extend it into intense weekend bouts may lower the risk of premature death from cancer or any cause.

The study was published yesterday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

This study looked at activity habits related to dying. AICR recommendations focus on cancer prevention. And for lower risk of developing cancer, AICR research shows that 30 minutes of physical activity a day lowers risk of colorectal, breast and endometrial cancers.

The standard recommendation for overall good health is for you to do 150 minutes of moderate activity five days a week. Here, the researchers wanted to look at what happens if someone does the same amount of activity compressed into just one or two day spurts – what the researchers term “weekend warriors.”

To do this, the paper pooled data from 11 studies that included almost 64,000 men and women. All the participants were part of an English or Scottish health survey. From 1994 to 2008, someone had interviewed each person about their activity habits for the past month. Then in 2016 the researchers looked at mortality data.

Compared with those who were inactive, physical activity at all amounts and intensities linked to about a 30 percent lower risk of dying from any cause. This is after taking into account recognized risk factors, such as obesity.

For cancer and heart disease mortality, the pattern was similar, with any amount of activity linking to a lower risk of dying from these diseases compared to the inactive.

Those who were exercising the recommended 150 minutes a week were at the least risk. For cancer death this was a 21 percent lower risk. The weekend warriors and those who were doing at least some physical activity were also at lower risk.

In what the authors call “one of the most striking findings” even those going to the gym or doing another activity once or twice a week had lower risk compared to those who reported no activity.

This study has a few limitations, such as only looking at activity levels at one point in time, and those could have changed over years. Activity was also self reported.

In this study the majority of participants – 63 percent — weren’t doing any activity at all. Only about one of ten people were doing the recommended amount of activity. And four percent were the weekend warriors.

More research is sure to follow.

This study was supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care–East Midlands, Leicester Clinical Trials Unit, and the NIHR Leicester-Loughborough Diet, Lifestyle and Physical Activity Biomedical Research Unit.


Author: Mya Nelson

Mya R. Nelson is at American Institute for Cancer Research, where she writes about the research in the field.

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