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When is the Best Time of Day to Work Out? We Look at the Evidence

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To gain a health advantage, it’s natural to wonder if you can get more from your workouts by exercising at a certain time of day. When time is restricted due to busy lifestyles, it’s often exercising that’s sacrificed in favor of sleep.

The question’s been asked by many, researchers responded and analysis’s can be drawn.

Scientific Research Studies into the Effects of Exercise at Various Times of the Day

Morning Exercise

Exercising in the morning definitely has its perks. Proponents of early morning exercise tend to experience less stress, increased productivity, better mood and energy increases. Working out in the mornings also contribute to making healthier choices throughout the day, and for those with weight-loss goals, up to 20% more fat is burned when the exercise is done on an empty stomach (fasted exercise).

Generally, a morning exercise routine sets you up for a healthy and productive day.

Afternoon Exercise

Exercising in the afternoon has its advantages too. Mainly, your body’s core temperature is warmer because it increases gradually as the day goes on. In the morning, when the body temperature is lower, muscles will be stiffer so there is the drawback of spending longer on warm up routines to loosen muscles before starting, reducing the chances of injury.

Endurance levels are higher in the afternoon as well. Testosterone levels in both men and women are naturally higher in the mornings, however late afternoon resistance training increases testosterone further. 

The significant drawback is by planning to exercise in the afternoons, even if it’s to fit in a 20-minute workout during your lunch break is there’s been all morning for things to go wrong, interfering with your plans, then you get no exercising done at all. This is particularly problematic for those planning to attend the gym after work. By that time, much of the day has depleted your energy levels, motivation is gone and you’re more likely to go home instead of going to the gym.

Evening Exercising

For those who have no option but to go against the general advice of not working out in the evening, believing it to be a contributing factor to restless nights, and sleep disruption, it’s actually not!

Research into post-workout insomnia shows that working out any time of day improves sleep. If you find you are having difficulty drifting off to sleep, simple routine changes like switching to a low-to-mid intensity exercise session instead of HIIT, can prevent restless nights. As can a hot shower or bath because just stepping out, the temperature drops, causing your body temperature to react by shutting down helping you get to sleep.

Habit Trumps Timing

What research shows is the need for consistency in timing your exercises. Morning exercise may work better if you can fit a workout in each morning as your body will be burning fat, but… don’t sacrifice sleep because you will lose the benefits. Instead, work toward establishing a routine that makes exercise habituated.

People are more likely to experience better health gains when exercise is a habit at specific times. To make your body accept that habit, plan to exercise four times were per week, at the same time each week, for a minimum of six weeks. 

Consistency is what will train your mind and body to respond to exercising, regardless the time of day, provided it is the same time as it keeps your body matched with your circadian rhythm.

Further research developed for clinician guidance advises that “making health habitual” offers the most benefits to patients.  Small actions repeated daily makes that action second-nature in approx. 3 months. Therefore, if you find you’re inconsistent in maintaining a schedule of exercising at the same time for those four weekly bouts over six weeks, a simple way to work more exercise into your daily routine is to set a smaller action you can take daily to get some exercise. For example, picking a parking space farther away from where you normally park at work will increase your walking activity on work days. If you travel by bus, take a different route to get the bus at a stop farther away. If you really are strapped for time, try push-ups in the kitchen when the dinner’s prepped and the cooker’s doing the work, or install a pull-up bar on your bathroom door and use that multiple times throughout the day when you go to use the bathroom. Some exercise daily is better than skipping sessions.

Pick Your Workout Times Carefully

Regularly training at the same time consistently increases oxygen consumption and enhances performance. 

Circadian Rhythmicity Takes Precedence

The circadian rhythm is your body’s sleep-wake cycle and effects your body’s core temperature, hormone release, digestion, and your level of alertness.

The largest study to date on circadian rhythmicity monitored the sleep wake cycles on 91,000 participants, concluding that the most beneficial factors for mental health and general wellness is being active in daylight and inactive at night. Regular exposure to morning sunlight or midday helps people sleep more soundly at night.

For that reason, morning exercise is best, but only if that is maintained each morning.

If you cannot commit to a morning exercise routine, then regularly exercising at the same time consistently is much better than mixing your times up.

You Do You!

The bottom line on the best time for exercising is that it’s individual. Everybody’s circadian rhythm is different and it differs at various life stages. What works for a young parent, will be different to what’s best for someone in their senior years.

The largest factor to consider is commitment. What time of day can you commit to? If you know you’re not a morning person, accept that and push to commit to training as close to midday as possible. Night owls or those who just find that the only time they have spare is in the evenings, try to limit high intensity training. If you find exercise is disrupting your sleep pattern, reduce the intensity.

The more you can train your mind and body to exercise habitually at the same times of day consistently, the more efficient your workouts will be.  

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