Imbalances in hormones can have numerous biological consequences and recent studies have linked such disruptions with increased cancer risks.
Does the timing of exercise or physical activity affect the outcomes for your health? Anyone who cares about their fitness and has goals to become healthier must have asked this question and looked hard for an answer. If that includes you, here’s what you should know – it all depends on your circadian rhythm.
Circadian rhythm and exercise timing
A new study published in the International Journal of Cancer suggests that exercise performed at different times of the day may affect circadian rhythms. Such circadian disruptions can be linked to breast and prostate cancer. The study explains that circadian disruption occurs when the endogenous or internal circadian rhythms are not in sync with environmental and social stimuli such as light exposure, work hours, diet and physical activity patterns.
Exposure to artificial light from bulbs or blue light from devices at night, night shifts and irregular meal intake timings can interfere with the normal nocturnal hormone production, especially of hormones like melatonin and cortisol. Imbalances in these hormones can have numerous biological consequences and recent studies have linked such disruptions with increased cancer risks.
Early morning activity to reduce cancer risks
Previous studies had not evaluated exercise or physical activity timings for associated cancer risks. However, the new study in the International Journal of Cancer set out to do just that by assessing the effects of physical activity on 1,738 breast cancer patients, 1,112 prostate cancer patients and 3,403 healthy controls. All participants were frequency-matched by sex, age and region of residence in Spain. They were all between the ages of 20 and 85 years and data were collected from them between 2008 and 2013.
The most common physical activities reported by these participants were walking, going to the gym, swimming, playing soccer, bike riding and intermediate-level household activities like chores or gardening. The study found that early morning activity conducted between 8 am and 10 am was associated with a protective effect in both breast cancer and prostate cancer patients. Physical activity during late morning, midday or afternoon did not have similar effects, although evening physical activity in men had protective effects too. The study suggests morning physical activity may even reduce the risks of these cancers in others.
Other benefits of early morning exercise
Many other studies have indicated that early morning exercise can have health benefits. The following are some benefits you could get by exercising early in the morning.
1. Aids weight loss: A 2015 study in EBioMedicine indicates that 24-hour fat-burning rates are highest in those who exercise first thing in the morning, before getting breakfast. Another study in the International Journal of Obesity in 2018 indicates that those who exercise for 30 minutes early every morning tend to naturally make healthier food choices throughout the day without any dietary interventions. Both of these findings suggest that exercising early in the morning can help you lose weight.
2. Improves memory and cognition: A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine published in 2019 indicates that an early morning bout of moderate-intensity exercise improves working memory and cognitive ability in older adults. Physical activity in the morning can therefore improve your memory, focus, concentration, attention span, visual learning and decision-making skills.
3. Increases day-long activity: Being active first thing in the morning increases your alertness and ability to be active throughout the day. A study in Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise published in 2012 suggests that physical activity like walking for 45 minutes early in the morning increases the overall physical activity rates for the entire day.
4. Prevents diabetes and hypertension: A study in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology in 2015 showed that morning exercise increases cortisol function and blood sugar control, thereby preventing hypoglycemia and managing type 1 diabetes. Another study in Vascular Health and Risk Management says that exercising in the morning, especially around 7 am, is one of the best ways to control blood pressure levels and prevent hypertension.
For more information, read our article on Benefits of a morning walk.
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