Anyone who religiously goes to the gym at the same time of day—or does cardio on a particular outdoor route with day-in, day-out “temporal consistency”—knows that people who exercise in the morning, afternoon, or evening become creatures of habit. Like clockwork, you’ll see the same “early risers” flocking to their local gym in the predawn hours, while a completely different group of “night owls” only seem to hit the gym after sundown. Most often, people’s work schedules and personal chronobiology dictate what time of day “huffing and puffing” fits in and feels right.
According to a new study (Schumacher et al., 2019), identifying a specific time of day (e.g., early morning, lunch break, after work, etc.) when you can consistently squeeze in some moderate-to-vigorous physical activity—and routinizing this “exercise time” into an automatic habit—is linked to better weight-loss maintenance. These findings by researchers affiliated with Brown University were published today in the journal Obesity.
What were the general findings? “In a study of 375 adults who successfully maintained weight loss and who engage in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), most reported consistency in the time of day that they exercised,” the authors said.
Although daybreak was the most popular time for people in this study to seek exercise, so-called “weight loss maintainers” who preferred to work out in the afternoon or evenings (as part of a consistent daily habit) also experienced success in maintaining their weight loss.
As the authors explain, “Temporal consistency was associated with greater MVPA, regardless of the specific time of day of routine MVPA performance. Consistency in exercise timing and other cues might help explain characteristic high physical levels among successful maintainers.”
Of course, these findings are correlative; consistency in the timing of daily exercise performance is not some magic bullet that guarantees someone will instantly become a “successful weight-loss maintainer.” There are multiple factors (e.g., caloric intake, diet quality, sleep habits, medication side effects, depression) that influence someone’s ability to lose weight and keep it off. When it comes to successful weight loss maintenance, exercise is just one piece of a bigger—and very complex—puzzle.
“Our findings warrant future experimental research to determine whether promoting consistency in the time of day that planned and structured physical activity is performed can help individuals achieve and sustain higher levels of physical activity,” senior author Dale Bond said in a statement. Bond is a professor of psychiatry and human behavior (research) at Brown’s Alpert Medical School. First author Leah Schumacher added, “It will also be important to determine whether there is a specific time of day that is more advantageous for individuals who have initial low physical activity levels to develop a physical activity habit.”
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