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Beyond Trim

I've Got Rhythm

My friends and family know I’m a morning person. If the sun’s up, I am up, and often long before. My early bedtime is also well known. I’m also a firm believer in eating breakfast and in getting my exercise early in the day whenever I can.

Given that this pattern feels so very “right” and natural to me, I was intrigued to hear of research being done to determine whether the timing of meals, exercise, and other activities during the day has any effect on health markers. This field of study is called chronobiology. It looks at our biological rhythms and internal biological clocks (also known as circadian rhythms) that in part determine sleeping and waking patterns, energy availability, and energy usage.

One of the leading researchers in the field is Dr. Marta Garaulet-Aza, a Professor of Physiology and Nutrition at the University of Murcia, Spain. She holds a Master’s in Public Health from Harvard University and is a visiting professor in Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and in Nutrition and Genomics at Tufts University.

Dr. Garaulet-Aza’s recent research focuses on the treatment of obesity using chronobiology. In doing her research, she learned that the timing and calorie distribution of meals can affect food digestion, absorption, and metabolism and that certain meal patterns can be a good predictor of weight loss success. In two different studies, she and her colleagues found that eating a larger breakfast and a lighter supper resulted in significantly more weight loss among subjects. They also found that eating meals at odd times disrupts our circadian rhythms.

Other research supports the benefit of exercising early in the day, showing that it promotes healthier sleep and weight loss maintenance. Those who habitually exercise early in the day also seem to be more successful at maintaining a regular workout routine.

Chronobiology may also help us to understand the toll that shift work can take on those workers’ health. Shift workers have been shown to be at higher risk for weight gain, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Hormonal imbalances created by disrupted sleep patterns may be the contributing factor.

I think I will stick with my current routine. As the old saying goes, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” I’ve got healthy going for me. Let’s hope the other two follow closely!