Best Time to Exercise? What Science Tells Us

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When a study on exercise hits the pages of The New York Times, it’s bound to grab attention. Yet, let’s pause for a moment and explore why an article regarding the “Best Time of Day to Exercise for Metabolic Health” might not be as groundbreaking as it seems. Here’s a dive into the study, its findings, and the context that helps us better understand what it all means.

What The Study Tells Us

This study took a close look at the effects of exercise timing on metabolic health. Three groups of eight men were assigned a high-fat diet for five days. Two groups incorporated exercise routines into this diet, with one group working out in the morning and the other in the evening. Blood markers related to metabolic health were tracked throughout the study.

The study involved 24 men aged 30-45 who were overweight or obese but otherwise healthy. The 11-day study included a five-day high-fat diet phase followed by a five-day exercise plan, with participants split into morning and evening exercising groups. Blood samples were taken at different times to assess metabolic changes.

Following a period of high-fat diet consumption, noteworthy changes occurred. There was a substantial increase in LDL cholesterol levels, signifying a clear impact. Additionally, more than 300 metabolites underwent alterations, indicating a less healthy metabolic profile.

After incorporating exercise, evening exercisers experienced greater reductions in fasting blood glucose, cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol. They also exhibited lower fasting insulin and triglycerides, with some benefits seen for morning exercisers too. Moreover, evening exercise led to notable decreases in cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.

On the other hand, it should be considered that the study focused on young, overweight/obese men on a high-fat diet, so its applicability is limited. The high-fat diet used was considerably higher in fat than the typical Western diet and changes in metabolites don’t necessarily translate directly to disease risk. Sleep patterns could also have influenced the results, especially for the morning exercising group.

The Takeaway

Evening exercise may have unique benefits, but further research is needed. For most people, exercise timing isn’t a critical factor. Rather than arguing about exercise timing, consider experimenting to find what works best for you. While headlines can be attention-grabbing, remember that understanding the intricacies of a study is key. 


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