There’s no denying: We are living through tumultuous times. One of the names applied to them is the “post truth era.” That’s a disturbing notion. The sad fact is that health news, and especially coverage related to diet and lifestyle, have been in a “post truth era” for a long time. Exaggerating and distorting the significance of studies that really just add incrementally to what we know based on the overall weight of evidence is a profitable enterprise for many industries – but not good for your health, or the health of those you love. In this article we address the merits of exercise on the weekend, and the brain health benefits of the Mediterranean diet.

Does the “weekend warrior” have the same benefits?

In this JAMA Internal Medicine study, researchers collected self-reported physical activity data from more than 63,000 people ages 40 and older to evaluate whether there was an association between mortality risk and how much a person exercises, with particular attention paid to how spread out the exercise is over a week.

People who didn’t report partaking in moderate- or vigorous-intensity activities were deemed “inactive,” while people who engaged in less than 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity and less than 75 minutes a week in vigorous-intensity activity were deemed “insufficiently active.”

Meanwhile, people who engaged in 150 minutes or more of moderate-intensity activity a week or 75 minutes or more of vigorous-intensity activity a week from three or more sessions of exercise a week were deemed “regularly active,” and people who engaged in this amount of activity but in just one or two sessions were deemed “weekend warriors.”

Then, researchers followed these people over an 18-year period.

They found that in general, people who exercised were less likely to die over that period than people who were inactive. However, those who were the “weekend warriors” and those who were the “regularly active” seemed to have the same reduction in premature mortality risk. “Weekend warrior and other leisure time physical activity patterns characterised by 1 or 2 sessions per week may be sufficient to reduce all-cause, CVD [cardiovascular disease], and cancer mortality risks regardless of adherence to prevailing physical activity guidelines,” the researchers wrote in the study abstract.

A Look at the Media Coverage

Media coverage of the study included “Maybe that workout can wait till the weekend?” (CNN), “Weekend Warriors’ Show Survival Benefits” (New York Times), and “’Weekend warrior’ workouts tied to longer life” (Reuters). The coverage? “Fairly straightforward,” says Jeff Olson, who is a two-time Olympian and co-founder of Well Nourished Worldwide.

The study ultimately shows that “less is not necessarily more, but it is assuredly better than no exercise at all,” Olson says. “Weekend warriors (while a dubious term) infers people who are recreationally competitive a few times a week. Playing sports and physical games a few days a week is a good thing and offers healthier outcomes,” as you might expect.

Indeed, according to human health and performance expert Frank Forencich, creator of the health leadership organisation Exuberant Animal, the study sums up what we’ve long known: that “some exercise is better than none and that it can come in just about any pattern.”

How You Should Apply the Findings to Your Life

For Olson, the results should spur you to “rediscover the obvious … Go play! Go compete! Have fun!” After all, “playing and competing offers obvious physical and mental benefits. In addition, the social connections, camaraderie, and community participation all compound true health.”

He himself fits into the category of “weekend warrior” from the study, as his “two to three nights of soccer, per week, invigorate and refresh me every time. It is both physically and mentally cathartic. My mates and I consider it our sacred time and have been at it for over a decade. My experience is weekend warriors have winsome character traits (i.e. less stress) and great camaraderie.”

Forencich says that the big takeaway is that “there are thousands of ways to be healthy. The real standard here is not the study, but the proven experience of native people around the world,” he says. “There is huge diversity here, depending on habitat and tribal culture. Some tribes ran long distances, some walked, some gathered. Inuit tribes of the far north sat for most of the winter and resumed hunting in the spring. And yet, all these people remained substantially healthy.” Instead of taking advice and guidance from studies, we should be “looking to our far more substantial history,” he adds. “If people want to work out on the weekend, that’s great. If they want to take movement snacks throughout the week, that’s great too.”

The Study Conclusion

In this Neurology study, researchers examined the association between eating a Mediterranean diet and brain volume (where shrinkage of the brain and brain cell loss is known to be associated with impact on learning and memory). The study initially included 967 Scottish people around age 70, 562 of whom had a brain scan at age 73 to examine brain volume, cortex thickness, and grey matter volume; of those people, 401 would go on to have a second brain scan at age 76. The researchers also kept track of how much the study participants adhered to a Mediterranean diet, which involves lots of olive oil, fruit and vegetables, beans, and wheat and rice, as well as moderate amounts of wine, dairy, and fish (and not a lot of red meat or poultry).

Researchers found an association between consumption of a Mediterranean diet and less loss of total brain volume over the three-year period, even after adjusting for age, education levels, and other conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes. According to a news release on the study, “the difference in diet explained 0.5 percent of the variation in total brain volume, an effect that was half the size of that due to normal aging.”

A Look at the Media Coverage

Media coverage of the study included: “Mediterranean Diet Could Save Your Brain, Study Finds” (NBC News), “Mediterranean diet could prevent brain shrinking in old age, study suggests” (The Telegraph), and “Eat Mediterranean diet for a healthier and younger brain, studies say” (CNN).

Overall, Emilio Ros, MD, PhD, who is the director of the Lipid Clinic and Senior Consultant, Endocrinology and Nutrition Service of the Hospital Clínic in Barcelona, Spain, found the articles to provide “fair coverage of this study, its results and implications.”

How YOU Would Apply the Findings to YOUR Own Life

The findings of the study make total sense, as “there is ample epidemiological evidence that higher adherence to the Mediterranean diet relates to a lower incidence of cognitive dysfunction and dementia,” Ros notes. In addition, other clinical trial evidence from the Predimed study shows that ”Mediterranean diets enriched with extra-virgin olive oil or mixed nuts counteract age-related cognitive decline. Prior brain imaging studies have also associated the Mediterranean diet with brain integrity.”

In short, the takeaway is that a healthy diet — and particularly, a Mediterranean diet — “provides food for the heart and also for the brain, and healthy ageing in general,” Ros says. He himself will “stick to the Mediterranean diet, as I have done since I was born in a Mediterranean country!”