According to a recent study, what really matters is not what exercise you do, but when you exercise, also known as chrono-exercise or chrono-activity.

Although it is good to move at any time of day, a new study suggests that timing exercise to match our body’s circadian rhythms will get the best benefits from the physical activity.

Researchers at Leiden University Medical Center in The Netherlands found that the best time of day to exercise is between 8am and 11am.

Exercising during these hours is also associated with a lower risk of developing heart disease and stroke.

Study author, Gali Albalak, said: “The late morning seemed to be the most ideal timing.”

The study states: “Irrespective of total physical activity, morning physical activity was associated with lower risks of incident cardiovascular diseases, highlighting the potential importance of chronoactivity in CVD prevention.”

The most common cause of death throughout the world is cardiovascular disease (CVD). Cases of CVD are expected to rise significantly due to contributors such as physical inactivity, obesity, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and old age.

The researchers explain: “Physical activity is an important stepping stone to healthy ageing and—in theory—easily adjustable for most individuals. In contrast, according to the World Heart Federation, physical inactivity, which is becoming increasingly prevalent in our sedentary society, is the fourth leading risk factor for mortality. Moreover, sufficient physical activity can reduce cardiovascular mortality risk and improve quality of life.”

To investigate the link between daily physical activity timing (chrono-exercise or chrono-activity) and CVD outcomes, the study used data from the UK-Biobank to monitor heart-rate data from 86,657 participants between the ages of 42 and 76 over six years. The results were the same regardless of personal chronobiology.

Findings suggested that women benefitted the most, which mirrors previous studies which found morning was an effective time for females. Women who exercised in the morning were also more likely to lower their blood pressure.

For men and people with type 2 diabetes, the findings found that it was better for them to exercise later in the day to improve their blood pressure, cholesterol, body fat and tiredness.

People with diabetes are advised to move after meals as glucose tolerance will likely be lower.

It is suggested for men with diabetes to exercise in the afternoon as this is the best time to improve their blood glucose levels.

According to numerous studies, the best time to exercise to build or preserve muscle is in the afternoon or evening. Our muscles increase in strength throughout the day and therefore, in the evening we can lift more for longer.

It is advised for everyone to not exercise between midnight and 6am, a period when our bodies are resting and repairing.

Albalak’s study explains that exercising between these hours is linked to a larger risk of developing heart disease and stroke.

The researchers summarised: “In conclusion, our study showed that a greater proportion of physical activity in the morning was associated with lower CVD risk irrespective of the average total physical activity.

“This study provides the first evidence from a large population-based database and presents the novel term chrono-activity as well as insights on the seemingly positive effects of morning physical activity on the risk of CVD. When being validated and extensively metabolically characterised, these present results might suggest that time-dependent physical activity interventions might be an added beneficial behavioural factor to reach maximum health benefits and to lower the risk of CVD.”

Exercising at specific times in the day can shift our body clock which can help us wake up more easily in the early morning or even overcome jetlag. For example, exercising at 7am or between 1pm and 4pm can push our clock back and exercising between 7pm and 10pm can help us wake up later.

Albalak highlights that the most important thing is to move frequently in the day at a time that suits your schedule.

For example, if you are retired or have flexible working hours, you could experiment with chrono-activity any day, but if you work in an office, then try chrono-activity at weekends. Chrono-activity allows us to achieve more by doing less and so it is important to exercise this way when you have the opportunity.

The study, which was published in European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, can be read in full here.

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