Scientists find the best timing of exercise for weight loss

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While it has long been known that exercise is crucial for maintaining a healthy weight, the optimal timing of physical activity remains controversial.

However, a recent study suggests that the morning hours between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. may be the most beneficial time for engaging in moderate to vigorous physical activity to manage obesity effectively.

This study provided a new approach to exploring the diurnal pattern of physical activity and its impact on health outcomes.

Researchers, led by Dr. Tongyu Ma, used data from the 2003–2006 cycles of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, involving a total of 5,285 participants.

The participants were categorized into morning, midday, and evening clusters based on their diurnal pattern of moderate to vigorous physical activity, as measured by accelerometers. The patterns were analyzed using K-means clustering analysis.

Key Findings

Results indicated a strong linear association between moderate to vigorous physical activity and obesity in the morning cluster.

Those in the morning cluster who met physical activity guidelines had lower body mass index and waist circumference compared to those in the midday and evening clusters.

Despite having significantly more sedentary behavior, the morning group still showcased lower obesity markers.

This group also showed healthier dietary habits and lesser daily energy intake per unit of body weight, with self-reported data reflecting adherence to healthier diets and lower energy intakes relative to body weight.

Interestingly, participants in the morning cluster were, on average, 10 to 13 years older and primarily consisted of non-Hispanic White females with higher educational attainment, who had never used tobacco or alcohol.


This study proposes that the diurnal pattern of exercise is crucial in understanding human movement’s complexity and its ramifications on health.

While the findings emphasize the potential advantages of morning exercise, there is a need for caution, as the study is cross-sectional and doesn’t account for unmeasured variables, such as sleep quality, stress levels, and biological differences between individuals.

For instance, individuals who consistently exercise in the morning may have more predictable schedules and lesser responsibilities that might impede morning exercise, potentially affecting the results.

Expert Commentary

Rebecca Krukowski, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist specializing in behavioral weight management, remarked that the study aligns with common advice to schedule morning exercises to avoid distractions.

However, she emphasized that since the study is cross-sectional, the systematic differences between individuals who exercise in the morning and at other times, which were not measured in this study, remain unknown.

Key Takeaways

This cross-sectional study sheds light on the importance of the timing of physical activity in weight management.

While it suggests that engaging in physical activity during the morning hours might be linked to lower obesity markers, the inherent limitations in the study design warrant further investigations through prospective studies and randomized clinical trials to validate these findings and explore the underlying mechanisms and potential influencing factors in more depth.

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The research findings can be found in Obesity.

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