How Timing Can Affect Your New Years Resolutions (and Other Health Outcomes)
As the calendar turns to a new year, as is tradition, I’m of course thinking about resolutions. As in years past, I’m using ProofPilot to track my progress. Which resolutions stick? Did I stick with the new weight training program? Which behaviors have their desired outcome? Did it increase the size of my biceps?
At ProofPilot we’re encouraging researchers to think broadly about what affects health outcomes. There’s no one shot solution. Sometimes we use the terminology “think beyond the pill.” Good outcomes are a combination of mental, physical, environmental, social, and environmental variables.
This year I’ve been thinking about an additional element. Time. Time of day, time of the month, the season of the year. I’ve been using our Timing and Periodicity Features to test different timing scenarios.
Many of us set a new years resolution to “get more exercise.” It’s January. For a lot of us living in northern climates, it’s cold. There are storms. Who wants to go outside, or even get to the gym in this kind of weather? It begs the question. Is January 1st the right time of year to get the best outcomes from a new exercise routine?
This has got me thinking about the impact of timing in a whole variety of different medical, health and wellness applications.
Mounting academic research supports what our ancestors and many of us have known for a long time. Our 24-hour clock and the passing of seasons has a dramatic impact on our health outcomes.
But our understanding of timing and health is still fairly blunt. Researchers are just beginning to understand how hormone levels, gut bacteria and bodily activity ebb and flow with our internal circadian rhythms. We’ve only just scratched the surface of how strategic timing impacts the success of new treatments and behaviors.
Intermittent fasting, the process of going without food for 12–24 hours on a periodic basis, is trending now. What is the optimal fasting period? What is the optional periodicity if I’m light on sleep and heavy weight lifting? I haven’t yet found a journal article with an answer. SuppVersity has one of the better outlines on Nutrient/Meal Tracking I’ve seen.
Doctors often direct patients to take cholesterol drugs at night. The drugs work alongside the liver which ramps up cholesterol metabolism during sleep. So, isn’t it likely we can be more strategic with the timing of other medications, supplements, and health-promoting behaviors?
We’ve also got to consider the practicalities of daily life. From a physiological perspective, research suggests the best time to exercise is between 4 pm and 7 pm. For a lot of us, we’re expected to be at the office or heading out to social activities at this time. For me, its the worst time for exercise. It would just never get done. So is a morning workout better, because it’s less likely to conflict with other activities? (Research says yes.)
The considerations go beyond the 24-hour daily cycle. Anyone interested in conceiving a child knows this — the fertility cycle is about monthly. And what about the lunar cycle? Our bodies are 70% water. Is it inconceivable that lunar phases, which have such a dramatic effect on ocean tides, could also have an affect on our biology? Forty percent of ER physicians feel that a full moon creates a busier caseload. Science hasn’t yet found the link.
And then there’s seasonal change. Many animals hibernate or instinctively migrate to other locations at different times of the year. It seems conceivable the seasons also have a more significant impact on humans than we currently understand. It’s medically accepted that the short days of winter can cause depression. There’s a definite link between self-medication with food and depression. Could the shorter days be a contributing factor to holiday weight gain? It’s an interesting question.
We don’t have the answers to all these questions. What works and what doesn’t to improve human health and well being is complicated. Behaviors, genetics, and time play key roles. As I take on and track my 2018 New Years resolutions, I’ll be using the Timing and Periodicity Features in ProofPilot to see what has an impact and what doesn’t.
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