When is the best time to exercise? It’s a simple question with a frustrating amount of responses based on research results that may be directly contradictory.

The latest evidence for that emerged last month from a group of researchers in Australia, who argued that the healthiest time to sweat was at night, at least for those who are overweight.

The study carried out by the group analyzed 30,000 middle-aged people with obesity and found that those who did night exercise They were 28% less likely to die from any cause than those who exercised in the morning or afternoon.

“We were surprised by the gap” said Angelo Sabag, an exercise physiologist at the University of Sydney who led the study. The team expected to see some benefit associated with nighttime exercise, but “we didn’t think the risk reduction would be as pronounced as it was.”

So does that mean that night swimmers and runners had the best idea all along?

“The issue is not resolved” said Juleen Zierath, a physiologist at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. “It is an area of ​​research that is emerging. We haven’t done all the experiments. “We are learning a lot month by month.”

No study can determine alone when should you exercise. For many people, the choice comes down to their goals of achieving a particular fitness level, their work schedules, and common preferences.

Having clarified this, certain times of the day can present slight advantages depending on what you hope to achieve.

And when it comes to weight loss, good arguments have been made in support of morning exercise. A study published last year in the specialized journal Obesity detected that the people who did exercise between 7 and 9 in the morning They had a lower body mass index than their counterparts who exercised in the afternoon or evening, although the groups analyzed were not continued to be recorded over time, unlike the Australian study, which followed each participant for a period of time. average of eight years.

Of course, the biggest argument for morning exercise may be purely practical. “For many people, the morning is more convenient,” observes Shawn Youngstedt, a professor of exercise science at Arizona State University in the United States.

Even though getting up early to exercise may be a struggle at first, exercising in the morning doesn’t get in the way of Zoom meetings, gaming dates, or your latest Netflix marathon.

The case of afternoon exercise

Some small studies indicate that the best time to exercise, at least for elite athletes, may be the least convenient for many of us who are not elite.

Body temperature, which is lowest in the morning but peaks in the late afternoon, influences gymnastic performance.

Several recent small studies with competitive athletes suggest that lower body temperatures reduce performance (although warm-up exercises help counteract this) and that afternoon workouts help them. perform better and sleep longer.

If you have the luxury of time, a small study in New Zealand found it could be helpful take a nap first.

“The main difference is the population observed,” said Angelo Sabag. His study was limited to obese people, while the Chinese study was not. “People with obesity can be more sensitive to the effects of exercise depending on the time of day,” the physiologist pointed out.

The case of night exercise

This latest study probably won’t settle the debate, but it certainly suggests that those struggling with obesity could benefit from a later training.

Exercise makes insulin act more effectively in lowering blood sugar levels, which in turn prevents weight gain and type 2 diabetes, a common and truly devastating consequence of obesity.

“At night, your insulin resistance is at its highest,” Sabag noted. “So if you can compensate for that natural change in insulin sensitivity by exercising,” she explained, you can lower your blood glucose levels and help keep diabetes and cardiovascular disease at bay.

One lingering concern regarding evening exercise is that intense activity can disrupt sleep. However, some experts argue that These concerns are disproportionate.

The case that maybe it doesn’t matter

While many of these studies are fascinating, none is definitive. On the one hand, most simply show a correlation between the timing of exercise and health benefits, without identifying them as the cause.

“The ultimate study would actually be to assign people to different time points at random,” said Professor Youngstedt, which is phenomenally expensive and difficult for academics.

“Every time you can, exercise”, urged Angelo Sabag. “That is the answer.”

In a recent edition of his newsletter analyzing the Australian study, Arnold Schwarzenegger (bodybuilder, actor and former governor of the state of California) seemed to agree. He cited a 2023 study suggesting that there really is no difference in results depending on the time of day you exercise. In which case, it’s just a matter of What gives you the best results?.

“I’m going to continue doing my exercises tomorrow,” wrote Schwarzenegger, former Mr. Universe. “For me it’s automatic.”

©The New York Times

Translation: Román García Azcárate


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