In mice, obesity has been observed not only in those freely fed a high-fat diet (HFD) but also in those fed while physically inactive. In contrast, a HFD during physically active periods protects against obesity and the impairments in the circadian rhythm induced by free feeding of a HFD. Although exercise is known to be effective for obesity prevention and management, the optimal timing of exercise has not yet been determined. In the present experiments, we aimed to determine the best combination of daily timing of HFD consumption and exercise for the prevention of HFD-induced weight gain in mice. In this experiment, "morning" refers to the beginning of the active phase (the "morning" for nocturnal animals). Increases in body weight related to free feeding of a HFD was significantly reduced with 4h of exercise during the late (evening) or middle (noon) active period compared to 4h of exercise during the early (morning) active period or free access to exercise, which resulted in hours of exercise similar to that of morning exercise. These results suggested that eating in the morning or at noon followed by exercise in the evening could prevent weight gain more effectively than exercise in the morning followed by eating at noon or in the evening. The group fed a HFD for 4h in the morning had lower body weight than the group fed a HFD for 4h in the evening without exercise. The last group of experiments tested the hypothesis that there would be an interaction between mealtime and exercise time (i.e. time of day) versus order (i.e. which comes first) effects. We compared groups that exercised for 4h at noon and were fed either in the morning or evening and groups that were fed for 4h at noon and either exercised in the morning or evening. We found that the groups that were fed before exercise gained less body and fat weight and more skeletal muscle weight compared to the groups that exercised before eating. Corresponding to the body and fat weight changes, the respiratory exchange ratio (RER) was lower and energy expenditure was higher in the groups fed before exercise than in the groups fed after exercise, and these effects on energy metabolism were also observed in the early stage of HFD feeding before obesity. When obese mice fed a HFD for 12 weeks were exposed to a combination of feeding and exercise timing in an effort to reduce body weight, eating followed by exercise resulted in greater weight loss, similar to the experiments conducted to prevent weight gain. These results demonstrate that a combination of daily timing of eating and exercise may influence weight gain and that eating followed by exercise may be effective for minimizing increases in body and fat weight as well as maximizing increases in skeletal muscle weight.
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