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Is there an optimal time of day to exercise?

Two new studies say yes. Unfortunately, each claims a different time.

  • Research at the Weizmann Institute of Sciences declares evening to be the best time for an exercise session.
  • Not so fast, says a new study at UC Irvine, which replies that late morning is the optimal workout time.
  • Both studies involved mice on treadmills and measured different markers to produce their results.

We know timing is everything, but does everything rely on timing? When it comes to when you exercise, the answer might be yes.

Two complementary studies were recently published in the journal Cell Metabolism, detailing the relevance of circadian rhythm on exercise. Both studies relied on mice huffing it on treadmills (along with a dozen human counterparts in one of the studies). Both presented an optimal time of day to exercise. The problem is, each study claims a different time.

In the first, mice were put on varying cardio protocols at different times of day. "Mouse evening" is different than "human evening" since rodents are nocturnal. According to this research, evening appears to be the best time of day for exercise efficiency.

The team, led by Dr. Gad Asher in the Department of Biomolecular Sciences at the Weizmann Institute of Sciences, focused on skeletal muscle. They discovered higher levels of post-workout ZMP during mouse evening, affording the rodents an increased exercise ability. When 12 humans were tested in a similar manner the result was the same. As the team writes,

"The distinct daytime and exercise-type transcriptomic and metabolic signature in skeletal muscle point toward a difference in nutrient utilization and metabolic pathway activation, in particular, fatty acid oxidation and glycolysis."

Asher believes this offers a leg-up on those that hit the treadmill in the evening, noting that ZMP is "an endogenous analog of AICAR [aminoimidazole carboxamide riboside], a compound that some athletes use for doping." Apparently, our internal alarm clock offers access to our inner pharmacy at different times.

Morning vs Evening | Best Time of Day to Workout

Not so fast, says Dr. Paolo Sassone-Corsi at the Center for Egpigenetics and Metabolism at UC Irvine. His team also investigated the effects of circadian regulation on metabolism. He says that by the end of the study his team looked out a much different time window.

"Using mice, we compared the impact of exercise on the skeletal muscle metabolism at different times of day. We discovered that exercising at the correct time of day — around mid-morning — results in more oxygen in the cells and a more rejuvenating effect on the body."

Sassone-Corsi measured changes in muscle tissue as they related to glycolysis and lipid oxidation. The key component was a transcription factor, HIF-1α, and its role in exercise efficiency. Homing in on this particular process offered another perspective.

Specifically, Sassone-Corsi says that our bodies utilize carbohydrates and ketone bodies better during a late morning workout; we also break down fats and amino acids more efficiently during this phase.

While both studies involve circadian rhythms, Sassone-Corsi admits that mice living in a laboratory experience reality differently than humans. Physiological differences between an early rising human and a night owl signify varying optimal times of day for pretty much everything, workouts included. If you're not accustomed to hitting the gym at the break of dawn, it is unlikely that a 6 a.m. session will be better when compared to your normal evening regimen.

Nathaniel Clyne attends the gym session during the AFC Bournemouth warm weather training session at NAS Sports Complex on March 21, 2019 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Photo credit: AFC Bournemouth / AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images

In my experiences, there are advantages to both. In the morning (my personal preference, being an early riser), exercise wakes you up and prepares you for the day ahead. I notice a qualitative difference between getting on my laptop on days when I work out first compared to when I do not.

Other benefits of a morning routing include:

  • More efficient weight loss
  • REM sleep aids in motor control
  • Early birds are more consistent (likely because willpower is a limited resource)

Yet evening exercise also has advantages. For example, your body is more limber, having moved around all day; hitting the yoga mat first thing in the morning can be torturous. The wash of chemicals after an evening session sets you up for a restful sleep. Other research suggests that evening workouts allow you to blow off steam from your day while also increasing the intensity of your session. Strength and flexibility are highest in evening.

The answer to the optimal workout time appears to be: it depends. Like diet, exercise programs are individual. Experience and habitual patterns must be factored in. The most important takeaway from these studies is the fact that exercising at any time of the day is better than not exercising at all. Whatever your movement protocol, that you have one is the most important factor.

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Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook.

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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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