If you exercise at lunchtime, there may be times — maybe when you’re packing out your warm clothes and gym bag every evening — when you wonder if it’s worth it. But this new result is a good fight. The study, published on February 18 in Nature Communications, provides strong evidence that non-invasive interventions such as physical activity make a difference in health outcomes, according to Fatima Z. Syed, MD, says an expert in medicine and a doctor at the Duke Lifestyle and Fitness Center. in Durham, North Carolina, who was not involved in the investigation. “Studies show finally that participation in moderate activity (MVPA) is associated with a lower risk of dying from heart disease or cancer. . But Syed worries that people will read the headlines and think that if they can’t exercise during the day, exercising at other times of the day isn’t worth it. “This is not true. I interpret these results to show that the exercise is worth it, and if you can do it during the day, it’s better,” he says.
Moderate and vigorous physical activity reduces the risk of dying from all causes, heart disease and cancer!
To examine the relationship between physical activity, duration of exercise, and the risk of all-cause mortality, as well as death from any cause, the researchers used health and demographic data from approximately 92,000 individuals in the database. . UK biomedical.
All participants wore an accelerometer for a week, which tracked the time of day they exercised and how active they were. After collecting this data, the researchers placed the participants into one of four groups based on when they showed:
In the morning, from 5 am to 11 am.
Afternoon, 11 am to 5 am.
In the evening, from 5 p.m. in the middle of the night
The group did not show interest in time and exercised at different times of the day during the week
After an average of 7 years, the researchers presented the death certificates of the participants. A total of 3088 participants (3.4%) died; 1,076 (1.2%) died of heart disease; and 1,872 (2%) have died of cancer.
People who exercise during the day have a lower risk of premature death than those who exercise in the morning or evening!
The authors found that moderate and vigorous exercise at any time of the day is better than no exercise in reducing the risk of death from all causes, heart disease and cancer .
But their influence is equal for everyone. Those who exercised in the middle of the day and those who varied their exercise time from day to day had a lower risk of death, both overall and from heart disease, than those who did not exercise at all. in the evening and in the morning.
The results suggest that regular exercise may increase the health benefits of daily exercise, the authors concluded. “The overall conclusion of this large study is consistent with what we know: the more you move, the healthier you are. It supports what we’ve been trying to get people to do for a long time, “says Laura Richardson, PhD, associate professor of exercise science and movement science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Dr. Richardson was not involved in the new investigation.
According to Paul Arciero, Doctor of Exercise Physiology and Professor in the Department of Health Sciences and Human Physiology at Skidmore College, these results also provide more insight into the optimal time of day for many people to engage in MVPA for a long life. in Saratoga Springs, New York, and author of The Protein Pacing Diet. “Of course, it makes sense that daytime exercise reduces the risk of dying from heart disease and [death from] other causes,” said Dr. says Arciero, who is no longer involved in the new study. Vigorous exercise done early in the morning is known to increase the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attack or stroke compared to exercise at other times of the day, and exercise and the evening can cause sleep problems that can affect the mood, he adds.
Who benefits from an afternoon workout?
The lowered risk of heart disease death with afternoon workouts was especially strong among men, the elderly, less active individuals, and people with preexisting heart disease, noted the authors.
“That’s an interesting finding and aligns with what I see in my practice,” says Dr. Anderson.
“When we look at people who were in that midday group — people who were out of shape, the elderly, those that are already identified as having less activity — in my experience, those people often prefer midday exercise,” says Anderson.
People who are retired or who have existing heart issues or obesity often choose afternoon exercise because that’s when they feel the best, she explains. “They’ve had their breakfast, taken their medicine, their bodies are not as achy.”
Circadian Rhythms May Be Linked to Why Afternoon Exercise Provides Greater Benefits
Although the study was not designed to discover why exercise timing could influence early death, the authors of the study believe that it could be linked to our bodies’ circadian rhythms, which are the physical, mental, and behavior patterns that follow a 24-hour cycle.
Circadian rhythms could be the key, says Syed. “We have peaks in blood pressure and other hormones like cortisol in the morning, and similar peaks happen at bedtime. Maybe we are meant to be our most physically productive outside of those peaks,” she says.
By the afternoon, the body has had time to sufficiently adjust to the day, says Arciero. “Our metabolism peaks in the afternoon; the heart, blood vessels, hormones, muscles, joints, and nervous system are also working at optimal form, and we are usually well-nourished by this time,” he says.
That would make the afternoon the most favorable time of day to perform vigorous exercise, because all these processes are working at their best, says Arciero.
Morning Exercise May Be More Effective for Burning Fat
Although certainly the largest, this study isn’t the first to suggest that the health benefits of exercise may depend on timing. A study published in the December 2020 Physiological Reports found that people who were at risk for or diagnosed with type 2 diabetes improved their blood-sugar control more if they worked out between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. than if they exercised in the morning.
Exercise timing may also influence how our body burns energy and builds muscle. In a small study published in the May 2022 Frontiers in Physiology, Arciero and his colleagues found that early-morning exercise in women reduced total body and belly fat and increased the lower body muscular power of their legs. Evening exercise in women significantly increased upper body strength, power, and endurance.
In men, evening exercise increased fat oxidation and decreased fatigue. “Other research has shown similar enhanced fat burning following morning exercise and improved athletic and exercise performance with late afternoon or evening exercise,” says Arciero.
Bottom Line: Exercise at Whatever Time of Day Fits Your Lifestyle
All the experts agree: The best time to exercise is when you can fit it in.
“Based on this article, in an ideal world would midafternoon vigorous exercise be best? Sure. Is that possible for my patient who has meetings all afternoon and only has a window to exercise after the kids go down? No. Is it possible for the patient who does shift work and needs to sleep during the day? No. But if a patient has space for flexibility, I would say, the best time to exercise for all its maximum benefit is in the afternoon,” says Syed.
Tips for Moving More in the Afternoon
Rule number one? Exercise does not need to be structured, says Syed. “Just get moving. Take the stairs during your lunch breaks, take a Zoom call while doing a brisk walk, have a midday dance party with the kids. Do what you can, and all of it counts,” she says.
Arciero recommends a 10- to 15-minute power walk in the office stairwell or a loop around the neighborhood. If you can’t leave your desk area, body weight lunges and resistance bands can provide a little burst of activity and get your heart rate up, he says.