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Research: Timing of exercise more important than workout type or length in ensuring health benefits

03 Apr 2024
Spas which offer a fitness element might benefit from thinking about the timings of sessions, according to new research from Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands.

The study, published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology*, found that the most benefit from exercise came when workouts matched the body's circadian rhythm and that this was "more important" than the type or length of activity.

80,000-plus participants
A team of researchers, led by physical therapist Gali Albalak, monitored 86,657 participants aged 42-76 over six years, using wearable trackers to chart heart-rate data.

During follow-up, 2,911 participants developed coronary artery disease (CAD) and 796 participants developed a stroke.

Risk patterns for CAD, stroke and ischaemic stroke were identified by investigating their associations with when they had been exercising.

Pattern of activity
In terms of preventing CAD, stroke and ischaemic stroke, the researchers found that the optimum time of day to move was between 8am-11am. In contrast, exercising between 12 noon-6pm was not as beneficial.

Crucially, the data showed the same results, irrespective of personal chronobiology – in layman’s terms, whether the participants were ‘night owls’ or ‘morning larks’.

“The study adds to previous evidence that timing of physical activity is an additional independent contributing factor to cardiovascular risk and therefore adds a novel dimension to cardiovascular risk prevention,” the researchers wrote in their final report.

“Most notably, we observed that participants with the highest daily physical activity performed during the late morning had a 16 per cent decreased risk of CAD and a 17 per cent decreased risk of stroke.”

* Albalak, G et al. Setting your clock: associations between timing of objective physical activity and cardiovascular disease risk in the general population. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, 2023

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