When is the best time to exercise? by Dr. Joseph Mercola for Mercola
Exercise is a foundational pillar of optimal health and disease prevention, and something is always better than nothing. That said, there are many ways in which you can maximize your results.
High-intensity interval exercises, for example, are more effective than other types of exercise, which means you can get away with a lower time investment. The timing of your exercise could also make a difference.
Early morning exercise may aid weight loss
A study1,2 published in the July 2019 issue of the journal Obesity assessed the relationship between the timing of exercise and the ability to maintain weight loss.
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The study included 375 participants from the National Weight Control Registry who engaged in moderate‐ to vigorous‐intensity physical activity (MVPA) at least two days a week, and who had successfully maintained their weight loss. At least 50% of their workout sessions occurred during the same time window, either morning, afternoon or evening.
Overall, 68% maintained a consistent workout schedule, and those who did also exercised more — 4.8 days per week compared to 4.4 days per week among those whose schedules were less consistent. The duration of their exercise was also longer.
The median duration for those with consistent schedules was 350 minutes per week, compared to 285 minutes per week among those with less consistent schedules. As a result, 86.3% of temporally consistent exercisers met the U.S. guidelines for exercise (150 minutes per week or more), whereas only 74.2% of less consistent participants met the guidelines.
Among those who kept a consistent workout schedule, 47.8% exercised first thing in the morning, suggesting the timing of their exercise might be a contributing factor to successful weight management.
That said, there were no significant differences in performance levels between the different time windows, highlighting that consistency is really the key issue. As noted by the authors:
“Greater automaticity and consistency in several cues were related to greater MVPA among all participants … Most participants reported consistent timing of MVPA.
Temporal consistency was associated with greater MVPA, regardless of the specific time of day of routine MVPA performance. Consistency in exercise timing and other cues might help explain characteristic high PA [physical activity] levels among successful [weight loss] maintainers.”
Reasons to exercise in the morning
There are many reasons to exercise first thing in the morning. For starters, doing it first means it’ll definitely get done, whereas afternoon or evening plans can easily get dashed by unexpected events or social invitations, or sheer fatigue and lack of motivation after a long day.
If you’re in the habit of using time restricted eating, exercising before your first meal of the day will also allow you to take advantage of fasted exercise, which has a number of metabolic benefits.
Exercising while in a fasted state essentially forces your body to shed fat,3 as your body’s fat burning processes are controlled by your sympathetic nervous system (SNS), and your SNS is activated by exercise and lack of food.4
The combination of fasting and exercise also maximizes the impact adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase (AMPK),5 which not only forces the breakdown of fat and glycogen for energy but also plays an integral role in autophagy — the process by which your body cleans out damaged organelles and cellular parts.