What’s Best? Exercise in the Morning or Evening?

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This is an age-old debate. Some people love beginning their day with exercise. Others can’t do that and get it done at night. Now a new study weighs in on this debate that concludes that for blood sugar control, one is better than the other. Let’s dig in.

The Debate

I’ve tried several times to become a regular morning exerciser. I do love that this gets done and off my “to do” list the first thing in the morning. However, for me, I’ve also injured my back seriously at least twice with early morning gym workouts. Why? The low back stabilizing muscles can get turned off from a night of lying in flexion.

My wife is the opposite. If she can get it done in the morning, that sets up her whole day. There’s nothing better.

During the pandemic and shut down I had the opportunity to start hiking every day near my house. When I went back into the office, I wanted to keep that up, so I carved out from 6-7 am to get that done. I have to say that while some mornings it was hard, it definitely seemed to set me up for the day, just like my wife had been telling me for years. However, by the time the fall hit, it was no longer light at that point and I went back to my daily, early evening work-outs.

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New Research

The new research is a randomized controlled trial, which is unusual to see in diet research (1). That’s simply because it’s such a pain to do.

The authors took three groups of overweight, middle-aged men who were placed on a high-fat diet for 11 days. They had them exercise in the morning at 6:30 am, in the evening at 6:30 pm, or no exercise. They then measured blood levels of various metabolites as well as blood sugar control.

The people who worked out at night had better blood sugar control while sleeping than those that exercised in the morning. More interesting was that insulin, cholesterol, triacylglycerol, and LDL-cholesterol concentrations decreased only in participants allocated to evening exercise training. Meaning these people had better-looking blood work.

The upshot? My guess is this debate isn’t fully settled, but these results from this randomized controlled trial sure were interesting. Right now, it looks like exercise in the evening may be the way to go!

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References:

(1) Moholdt T, Parr EB, Devlin BL, Debik J, Giskeødegård G, Hawley JA. The effect of morning vs evening exercise training on glycaemic control and serum metabolites in overweight/obese men: a randomised trial. Diabetologia. 2021 May 19. doi: 10.1007/s00125-021-05477-5. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34009435.

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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