The Time of the Day You Exercise Can Affect How Long You Live

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Engaging in most of your physical activities in the evening could unlock significant health benefits for individuals grappling with obesity according to a recently published study.

Study Links Night Activity to Better Health


A detailed study by the University of Sydney tracked the health outcomes of 30,000 participants over nearly eight years. 

They discovered a compelling link between nighttime activity and reduced mortality rates, especially concerning cardiovascular diseases.

Timing of Exercise and Mortality Risk


Participants who concentrated their moderate to vigorous physical activities—those intense enough to elevate the heart rate and cause breathlessness—between 6 p.m. and midnight showed the lowest risk of premature death. 

Exercise Frequency vs. Volume


It turns out that the frequency of these evening exercise sessions (even if they last just a few minutes) might be more important than the sheer volume of daily physical activity.

Timing Your Workout for Best Results


This research, originating from the Charles Perkins Center and shared in the journal Diabetes Care, emphasizes that timing might play a critical role in maximizing the life-extending benefits of exercise for those with obesity.

Activity Patterns in Adults with Obesity


The researchers leveraged data from the UK Biobank to examine 29,836 adults over the age of 40 who are living with obesity. 

Among these participants, 2,995 also had a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. 

New Insights from Exercise Trackers


The study focused on categorizing individuals based on their most frequent exercise timing—morning, afternoon, or evening—using data from wrist-worn accelerometers. 

These devices tracked the participants’ moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) continuously for a week at the beginning of the study.

Exercise Data Predicts Health Risks


To understand the long-term health impacts, the team connected this exercise data with health records from the National Health Services and National Records of Scotland. 

Throughout a follow-up period of 7.9 years, the researchers noted 1,425 deaths and significant cardiovascular and microvascular dysfunction events.

How Reliable Is Exercise Research?


In an effort to ensure the study’s integrity, the researchers adjusted for various potential confounders including age, sex, smoking habits, alcohol consumption, diet, physical inactivity, overall MVPA, education level, medication use, and sleep duration. Moreover, they excluded anyone with pre-existing cardiovascular diseases or cancer from the study.

Limitations of the Study


The findings are supported by a lengthy follow-up period and additional sensitivity analyses, which lend credibility to the conclusions. However, due to the observational nature of the study, it’s important to consider the potential limitations such as reverse causation from underlying diseases and unaccounted confounding factors. 

A notable gap of 5.5 years between initial data collection and the accelerometry study, coupled with a low response rate from the UK Biobank, also poses challenges to the study’s conclusiveness.

Australia’s Obesity and Heart Risk Crisis


Due to a number of societal influences, about two-thirds of Australians are dealing with excess weight or obesity, significantly heightening their risk of severe cardiovascular issues like heart attacks and strokes, as well as premature death. 

Rising Obesity Rates in the US


The obesity epidemic is a major public health challenge not only in Australia but also in the United States. Recent data reveals that the prevalence of obesity in the US soared to 41.9% between 2017 and March 2020, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES, 2021). 

Alarming Increase in Severe Obesity


This marks a significant increase from the 30.5% recorded from 1999 to 2000. 

Additionally, the prevalence of severe obesity almost doubled during the same period, rising from 4.7% to 9.2%.

Dire Health Impacts


Obesity is a key risk factor for several major health conditions including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, which are among the top causes of preventable, premature death. 

The Economic Impact Is Also Staggering


In 2019, the estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the US was nearly $173 billion. 

Adults with obesity face medical costs that are, on average, $1,861 higher per year compared to those maintaining a healthy weight.

Exercise Schedules to Combat Obesity


Dr. Angelo Sabag, a lecturer in Exercise Physiology at the University of Sydney, highlights that while exercise isn’t the only solution to the obesity epidemic, its timing can profoundly mitigate some of these health risks.

The Best Time to Workout for Health


The latest findings suggest that strategically scheduling physical activity at certain times of the day could be particularly effective in countering the adverse health impacts associated with obesity. This approach might offer a practical intervention to reduce the burden of major health conditions.

Research Summary


In summarizing their research, the authors underline the profound health benefits linked to evening moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) among adults who either have or are at risk of Type 2 diabetes (T2D). 

The study reveals that not just the quantity but the timing of physical activity, especially in the evening, correlates strongly with the lowest mortality risk compared to other times of the day.

What’s Next in Exercise Research?

Illustration. Image credit: Shutterstock

Although further research, including future trials and device-based studies, is necessary to delve deeper into the role of MVPA timing in managing cardiometabolic diseases, the current evidence supports evening exercise as a potentially effective approach. 

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Kate Smith, a self-proclaimed word nerd who relishes the power of language to inform, entertain, and inspire. Kate's passion for sharing knowledge and sparking meaningful conversations fuels her every word.