Morning workouts provide biggest benefit for the heart — especially among women

SOPHIA ANTIPOLIS, France — It’s no secret that exercise can protect the heart, but it turns out timing your workouts may matter even more. According to researchers from the European Society of Cardiology, morning physical activity appears to provide the biggest boost, producing the lowest risk of heart disease and stroke.

“It is well established that exercise is good for heart health, and our study now indicates that morning activity seems to be most beneficial,” says study author Gali Albalak of Leiden University Medical Center in a media release.

Albalak and the team analyzed data from over 85,000 people in the UK Biobank. The records included adults between 42 and 78 years-old who did not have cardiovascular disease (CVD) at the start of the study. On average, those included in this work were 62 years-old and 58 percent were women. For seven straight days, the participants wore a wearable activity tracker, and the team followed them for incident cardiovascular disease — or the first hospital admission or death resulting from coronary artery disease or stroke.

After six to eight years of follow-up, 2,911 participants developed CVD and 796 suffered a stroke. By comparing activity times, the researchers found that activity between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. yielded the lowest risk of both events. The team then conducted a second analysis, dividing the participants into four groups based on the peak time of exercise. The four groups were split into midday, early morning (8 am), late morning (10 am), and evening (7pm) workout groups. Study authors evaluated relationships between peak time of activity and incident CVD using midday exercise as the reference group.

Women enjoy the biggest boost from morning exercise

The team adjusted for both age and sex, and still noticed similar trends. Those most active in the early or late morning had 11 percent and 16 percent lower risks of incident CVD, respectively, compared to the midday group. Additionally, those who were most active in the late morning had a 17 percent decreased risk of incident stroke.

After analyzing the results according to sex alone, the researchers found that the results were significant in women but not in men. Women who were most active in the early or late mornings had a 22-percent and 24-percent lower risk of incident CVD, respectively. Moreover, women who were most active in the late morning had a 35-percent decreased risk of incident stroke.

The researchers note that it’s difficult to draw definitive conclusions (especially across gender) due to the observational nature of the study. Despite this, it offers good evidence to more confidently suggest that morning exercise has more perks than a nighttime workout.

“This was an observational study and therefore we cannot explain why the associations were more marked in women. 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. It is too early for formal advice to prioritize morning exercise as this is quite a new field of research. But we hope that one day we can refine current recommendations simply by adding one line: ‘when exercising, it’s advised to do so in the morning’,” Albalak concludes.

The findings are published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

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