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Morning exercise may be the best way to lose weight, study reveals

Engaging in moderate to vigorous morning exercise between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. might be the most effective time to combat obesity

This conclusion, drawn from a study published by The Obesity Society, offers a fresh perspective on how the timing of physical activity affects weight management and overall health outcomes.

Timing of physical activity

Previously, most research centered on the frequency, intensity, and duration of physical activities. 

Few studies have explored the daytime patterns of accelerometer-measured physical activities to determine the specific times most associated with obesity.

Study co-author.Tongyu Ma, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Health Sciences Department at Franklin Pierce University. “Our study provided a novel tool to explore the diurnal pattern of physical activity and to investigate its impact on health outcomes,” said Ma.

Focus of the study 

The goal was to determine whether meeting the physical activity guidelines (150 minutes/week of moderate to vigorous activity) at varying times had different outcomes in terms of reducing obesity.

Using data from the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey cycles by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the team analyzed data from 5,285 participants. 

Activity patterns were classified into morning, mid-day, and evening groups using the K-means clustering analysis.

What the researchers discovered 

The results were striking: there was a strong link between morning exercise and lower obesity rates. By comparison, midday and evening activity displayed a weaker connection. 

Those in the morning cluster had better metrics such as lower body mass index and waist circumference. 

Intriguingly, while they consumed a healthier diet and fewer calories relative to body weight, they also exhibited more extended sedentary behavior. However, the positive results in terms of weight persisted.

Demographics added another layer to the findings: participants in morning exercise group were predominantly older by about 10 to13 years, mostly female, highly educated, and refrained from tobacco and alcohol.

“Our findings propose that the diurnal pattern of moderate to vigorous physical activity could be another important dimension to describe the complexity of human movement,” wrote the study authors.

Study implications 

Dr. Rebecca Krukowski, a clinical psychologist specializing in behavioral weight management, highlighted the practical implications of the research, noting the benefits of morning exercise routines. 

“This is exciting new research that is consistent with a common tip for meeting exercise goals – that is, schedule exercise in the morning before emails, phone calls or meetings that might distract you,” said Dr. Krukowski.

Study limitations

However, she noted that since this is a cross-sectional study, it is not known whether people who exercise consistently in the morning may be systematically different from those who exercise at other times, in ways that were not measured in this study. 

“For example, people who exercise regularly in the morning could have more predictable schedules, such as being less likely to be shift workers or less likely to have caregiving responsibilities that impede morning exercise,” said Dr. Krukowski.

“Predictable schedules could have other advantageous effects on weight that were not measured in this study, such as with sleep length/quality and stress levels. In addition, the ‘morning larks’ who consistently rise early enough for morning exercise may be biologically different from their ‘night owl’ counterparts.”  

The study is published online in the journal Obesity.

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