New study finds best time of day to exercise to burn body fat

Dr Hilary Jones discusses UK's 'obesity epidemic' on GMB

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Being overweight or obese is often listed as a risk factor for most health problems. Carrying extra weight can make you more vulnerable to serious conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, for example. Therefore, losing weight if necessary is frequently cited as a way to improve your health.

Exercise is considered one way to aid weight loss, especially when combined with a healthy diet.

But now researchers believe they have discovered the optimal time to exercise in order to achieve weight loss.

A team from the Karolinska Institutet, in Sweden, and the University of Copenhagen, in Denmark, found that the relevant biological processes depend on the circadian rhythms of the cells.

Specifically, exercising in the late morning was shown to burn more calories.

As part of the research, published in PNAS journal, they compared the results of workouts in the morning and evening.

At two points in the day, the experts set mice on a high-intensity workout and studied their adipose tissue (body fat) afterwards.

Researchers looked at which genes were active in body fat at these times.

They discovered those involved with boosting the metabolism were more abundant in the morning slot, regardless of how much food they ate.

The morning workout genes broke down fat by producing heat and mitochondria in the adipose tissue.

In a media release, Professor Juleen R Zierath from the Karolinska Institutet, said: ”Our results suggest that late morning exercise could be more effective than late evening exercise in terms of boosting the metabolism and the burning of fat, and if this is the case, they could prove of value to people who are overweight.”

Mice were used in the trial as they share many basic physiological functions with humans and are a well-established model for human physiology and metabolism.

But there are also important differences, such as the fact that mice are nocturnal.

“The right timing seems to be important to the body’s energy balance and to improving the health benefits of exercise, but more studies are needed to draw any reliable conclusions about the relevance of our findings to humans,” Ms Zierath added.

Other advantages of morning exercise

The findings come after a previous study, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology in November 2022, concluded that exercising between 8am and 11am was linked to the lowest risk of heart disease and stroke.

Study author Gali Albalak, from the Leiden University Medical Centre, said: “Our findings add to the evidence on the health benefits of being physically active by suggesting that morning activity, and especially late morning, may be the most advantageous.”

While separate research, published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that older people who engage in morning exercise experienced better cognitive performance later in the day.

Lead author Michael Wheeler, from the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, commented: “This study highlights how relatively simple changes to your daily routine could have a significant benefit to your cognitive health.

“It also reveals that one day we may be able to do specific types of exercise to enhance specific cognitive skills such as memory or learning.”

Around one in four adults in the UK are thought to be obese.

Obesity is classed as having a body mass index over 30.

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