Written by Alan Mozes
Health Day reporter
MONDAY, Nov. 21, 2022 (HealthDay News) — Regular exercise has long been touted as a great way to keep your heart healthy, but could exercising in the morning offer more benefits than hitting the gym in the evening?
For women 40 and older, the answer is yes, new research suggests.
“First of all, I would like to emphasize that physical activity or some form of exercise is useful at any time of the day,” noted study author Gali Albalak, PhD candidate at the Department of Internal Medicine at Leiden University Medical Center. The Netherlands.
In fact, most public health guidelines ignore the role of timing altogether, Albalak said, focusing mostly on “exactly how often, how long, and at what intensity we need to be active” to get the most heart-healthy benefits.
But Albalak’s research focused on the ins and outs of the 24-hour wake-sleep cycle — what scientists call the circadian rhythm. He wanted to know if there could be “an additional health benefit to physical activity” based on this when people choose exercise.
To find out, he and his colleagues turned to data previously collected by the UK Biobank, which tracked the physical activity habits and heart health of nearly 87,000 men and women.
The participants ranged in age from 42 to 78, and nearly 60% were women.
All were healthy when they were fitted with an activity tracker that monitored exercise patterns for a week.
The condition of the heart, on the other hand, was monitored for an average of six years. During that time, roughly 2,900 participants developed heart disease, while about 800 had a stroke.
When comparing cardiac events to exercise timing, the researchers found that women who exercised primarily “late in the morning”—that is, between about 8 a.m. and 11 a.m.—had the lowest risk of either heart attack or stroke.
Compared to women who were most active later in the day, women who were most active in the early or late morning hours had a 22-24% lower risk of heart disease. And those who mostly exercised late in the morning reduced the relative risk of stroke by 35%.
However, the increased benefit of morning exercise was not seen among men.
Why? “We have not found a clear theory to explain this finding,” Albalak noted, adding that further research will be needed.
He also emphasized that his team’s conclusions were based on observational analysis of exercise routines rather than controlled testing of exercise timing. This means that while exercise timing decisions appear to affect heart health, it’s too early to tell. cause heart risk increases or decreases.
Albalak also emphasized that he and his team are very “aware that there are social issues that prevent large groups of people from being physically active in the morning.”
Still, the findings suggest that “if you have the opportunity to be active in the morning—for example, on your day off or by changing your daily commute—there’s no harm in trying to start the day with some activity.”
The findings struck one expert as interesting, surprising and somewhat puzzling.
“I can’t think of an easy explanation,” admitted Lona Sandon, program director of clinical nutrition at UT Southwestern Medical Center’s School of Health Professions in Dallas.
But to gain better insight into what’s going on, Sandon suggested it might be useful to gather information about the participants’ eating habits going forward.
“We know from nutrition research that the feeling of satiety is greater with a morning meal than with an evening meal,” he said. This may indicate a difference in the functioning of the metabolism in the morning and in the evening.
This may mean that “the timing of food intake before physical activity may affect nutrient metabolism and storage, which may further influence cardiovascular risk,” Sandon added.
It may also be that exercising in the morning reduces stress hormones more than exercising late in the day. If so, over time it can also affect your heart health.
In any case, Sandon echoed Albalak’s recognition that “any practice is better than no practice.”
So “exercise at a time of day when you know you’ll be able to stick to your regular schedule,” she said. “And if you can, take a morning physical activity break instead of a coffee break.”
The report was published on November 14 European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
You can read more about exercise and heart health at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
SOURCES: Gali Albalak, PhD candidate, Department of Internal Medicine, Subdivision of Geriatrics and Gerontology, Leiden University Medical Center, The Netherlands; Lona Sandon, PhD, RDN, LD, program director and associate professor, Department of Clinical Nutrition, School of Health Professions, UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas; European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, November 14, 2022