By Carolyn Crist

(Reuters Health) – People who always work out at the same time of day get more exercise overall and are more likely to get the recommended minimum amounts of weekly activity, a small U.S. study suggests.

Among 375 people who had lost weight and kept it off for at least a year, those who typically worked out at the same time every day averaged about 350 minutes of exercise per week, versus 285 minutes for those with inconsistent exercise schedules.

More than two-thirds of study participants worked out at consistent times of day, mostly in the morning, the study authors report in the journal Obesity.

“On average, those with high physical activity levels have a consistency with their routine, and that includes finding an optimal time to perform their daily routine,” said senior study author Dale Bond of The Miriam Hospital/Brown Alpert Medical School Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center in Providence, Rhode Island.

Most guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity for health and 250 minutes per week for maintaining weight loss over the long term, the study team notes. Forming a “habit” of exercise is likely the best way to meet the recommendations, they write.

“A good message for the general public is that the best time to exercise is when you can do it, and if you can do it with consistency, so much the better,” Bond told Reuters Health in a phone interview.

The researchers analyzed data on U.S. adults in the National Weight Control Registry who had dropped 30 pounds or more, were long-term weight loss “maintainers,” and had answered an annual questionnaire in 2018. Amid a broad range of questions, participants were asked about their exercise habits, including the types, timing and locations of physical activity during the week.

Everyone reported doing moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity more than two days per week. The study team grouped exercise times into early morning (4 a.m. to 9 a.m.), late morning (9 a.m. to 12 p.m.), afternoon (12 p.m. to 5 p.m.) or evening (5 p.m. to 4 a.m.).

They found that 68% of participants reported a consistent workout time, and nearly half of these people were early-morning exercisers. While the amount of exercise people got, on average, did not differ by the time of day when they worked out, those who worked out at consistent times averaged a higher total amount of exercise time per week.

Those with a consistent workout time were also more likely to achieve the 250-minute weekly guideline for weight-loss maintenance.

“Looking at physical activity as something that’s regimented, like brushing your teeth, seems to resonate with people,” Bond said. “Those who do it first thing in the morning get it done before life gets in the way.”

Since this study included a group of highly-motivated people who already lost weight and maintained it for years, additional studies should work with those who are habitually inactive but at risk for obesity, diabetes and hypertension, said Dr. Harriet Wallberg of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, who wasn’t involved in the study.

“Timing of the exercise bout (morning versus evening) appears to have an effect on blood glucose control in people with diabetes that may differ from the non-diabetic population,” she noted in an email. “Moreover, with some forms of exercise (high-intensity training), afternoon seems to be more efficacious in maintaining blood glucose control.”

Since lack of time for exercise is one of the most common barriers to physical activity, finding the right time and cue to exercise daily may be the key, noted Amanda Rebar of Central Queensland University in Rockhampton, Australia, who also wasn’t involved in the study.

“When habits form, they make it easier to consistently engage in exercise each day because rather than it being a new decision every day, it’s just doing what you do each day at that time,” she said.

“Find a time to exercise that works for you and stick with it,” Rebar said in an email. “Over time, it will become easier.”

SOURCE: Obesity, online July 3, 2019.