Morning or evening workouts?
It’s a brand-new year, and if it weren’t for the Covid, most of us would be rushing off to fulfill the most common New Year’s resolution – to get more exercise! But have you ever asked yourself when is the best time of day to work out – in the morning or late in the day, assuming you can choose? A new study from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health sheds some light on this choice. While many people find hitting the pavement, bike or treadmill – not to mention pumping iron – early in the morning is a bridge too far, they may change their minds after looking at the findings.
Stave off cancer
It turns out that going for a brisk walk, riding a bike, jogging or hitting the gym can help fight off cancer, according to the Barcelona study. Researchers say that exercising regularly early in the day kickstarts your body clock (sorry, night owls) and helps prevent disease. Of the nearly 3,000 people in Spain who took part in the study, the early birds who worked out between 08.00 and 10.00 were “less likely to develop prostate or breast tumors, respectively.” Even confirmed night owls benefitted from getting out of bed and exercising early. According to study coordinator Dr. Manolis Kogevinas, “The timing of physical activity obviously has an effect upon the rhythm of sex hormones and melatonin, as well as on food metabolism, which might explain our results.” Dr. Kogevinas pointed out that they observed similar results in men – but not women – who worked out between 19.00 and 22.00. So, why does he say morning workouts are better?
It all boils down to our circadian rhythm and melatonin. Dr. Kogevinas believes this may be why exercising in the morning provides the observed protective effects. In fact, he goes so far as to call it “crucial.” Most people know that our bodies produce melatonin when it’s dark to help regulate sleep, but did you know that melatonin also halts the spread of cancer? And when you work out late or stay up late, you slow down your body’s melatonin production. We know that one of the possible causes of cancer is environmental cues such as light and eating (artificial light and late-night snacks). We also know that exercising regularly can reduce the risk of cancer. It now appears that the “protective effect could be the most beneficial when physical activity is done in the morning,” according to Dr. Kogevinas.
This recent study is the first to observe a link between risk and the time of day you exercise. Moreover, the new findings are in line with another study that showed exercising in the afternoon and evening can slow down melatonin production. “The hormone is produced mainly during the night and with well-known anti-cancer properties,” says Kogevinas. “These results, if confirmed, may improve current physical activity recommendations for cancer prevention. What is clear is that everyone can reduce their cancer risk simply by being moderately physically active for at least 150 minutes each week.” You can read the complete study in the International Journal of Cancer.
Pros and cons
When you wake up, your bodily functions are at their lowest, as you’re just emerging from a rested state. A morning workout jump-starts your body for the day and enables you to get better sleep quality at the end of the day. Some prefer to exercise on an empty stomach to burn fat more efficiently, while others need fuel in the tank before exercising. Studies have shown they you’re more likely to be consistent with a daily morning workout, as it gives you time to focus on your physical and mental wellbeing. Working out early helps kick start your metabolism, allowing you to burn more calories during the day. Other studies have shown that morning workouts can increase your energy level in the afternoon since our bodies perform best in mid-afternoon for most people. Night owls will find it much more challenging to be motivated to wake up early and workout, but it can be done. Just remember that your joints and muscles are stiffer when you wake up, which could lead to injury without a proper warm-up.
Your long-term fitness goals
In the end, there is no right answer to which time is best to work out. You can find research that supports both morning and evening workouts. It’s better to find a workout routine that you can stick with that matches your long-term fitness goals. In the end, whether you work out early or late is your choice, of course. I’ve done both but prefer early mornings now that I’m retired. But after reading the Barcelona study about how exercising in the morning can help stave off cancer, I’ll be heading out the door to work out early. That’s a deal-clincher for me. What about you?