Efficacy of morning versus afternoon aerobic exercise training on reducing metabolic syndrome components: A randomized controlled trial

J Physiol. 2023 Nov 28. doi: 10.1113/JP285366. Online ahead of print.


A supervised intense aerobic exercise program improves the health of individuals with metabolic syndrome (MetS). However, it is unclear whether the timing of training within the 24 h day would influence those health benefits. The present study aimed to determine the influence of morning vs. afternoon exercise on body composition, cardiometabolic health and components of MetS. One hundred thirty-nine individuals with MetS were block randomized into morning (AMEX; n = 42) or afternoon (PMEX; n = 59) exercise training groups, or a non-training control group (Control; n = 38). Exercise training was comprised of 48 supervised high-intensity interval sessions distributed over 16 weeks. Body composition, cardiorespiratory fitness (assessed by V ̇ O 2 max ${\dot V_{{{\mathrm{O}}_{\mathrm{2}}}{\mathrm{max}}}}$ ), maximal fat oxidation (FOmax ), blood pressure and blood metabolites were assessed before and after the intervention. Compared with the non-training Control, both exercise groups improved similarly body composition (-0.7% fat loss; P = 0.002), waist circumference (-2.1 cm; P < 0.001), diastolic blood pressure (-3.8 mmHg; P = 0.004) and V ̇ O 2 max ${\dot V_{{{\mathrm{O}}_{\mathrm{2}}}{\mathrm{max}}}}$ (3.5 mL kg-1 min-1 ; P < 0.001) with no differences between training groups. AMEX, in comparison with PMEX, reduced systolic blood pressure (-4% vs. -1%; P = 0.019), plasma fasting insulin concentration (-12% vs. -5%; P = 0.001) and insulin resistance (-14% vs. -4%; P = 0.006). Furthermore, MetS Z score was further reduced in the AMEX compared to PMEX (-52% vs. -19%; P = 0.021) after training. In summary, high-intensity aerobic exercise training in the morning in comparison to training in the afternoon is somewhat more efficient at reducing cardiometabolic risk factors (i.e. systolic blood pressure and insulin sensitivity). KEY POINTS: The effect of exercise time of day on health promotion is an area that has gained interest in recent years; however, large-scale, randomized-control studies are scarce. People with metabolic syndrome (MetS) are at risk of developing cardiometabolic diseases and reductions in this risk with exercise training can be precisely gauged using a compound score sensitive to subtle evolution in each MetS component (i.e. Z score). Supervised aerobic exercise for 16 weeks (morning and afternoon), without dietary restriction, improved cardiorespiratory and metabolic fitness, body composition and mean arterial pressure compared to a non-exercise control group. However, training in the morning, without changes in exercise dose or intensity, reduced systolic blood pressure and insulin resistance further compared to when training in the afternoon. Thus, high-intensity aerobic exercise training in the morning is somewhat more efficient in improving the health of individuals with metabolic syndrome.

Keywords: circadian rhythms; exercise timing; metabolic syndrome.