Right now, you may be thinking the best time to work out is anytime that allows follow through on exercise plans. But are there advantages to morning, afternoon or evening workouts? In addition to all the good reasons for daily exercise, timing itself may have specific benefits. Some associate early morning exercise with success, others equate evening workouts with enhanced performance. Scientific research suggests the right time to exercise is relative to and dependent upon each individual’s own body clock or circadian rhythm. Chronobiologists, who study the brain’s time keeping mechanism, believe that even among those who sleep the same amount of hours, there are behavioral, emotional and cognitive differences that determine whether an individual is a ‘morning person’ or a ‘night owl.’
While ‘morning person’ and ‘night owl’ are not scientific terms, researchers theorize that each of us has our own individual chronotype influenced by physical biomarkers. The hormones melatonin that encourages sleep, and cortisol, that helps us wake, help determine whether an individual is “programmed” to start and end the day earlier or is naturally inclined to sleep in and stay up later. Those who wake early have more energy in the morning, while those who stay up late feel more energetic later in the day. Of course when we sleep and when we rise is determined by other factors, such as lifestyle decisions and our environment. It may help explain though, why some feel empowered in the morning and others not so much.
Finding or making time to exercise can be challenging, yet there’s really no wrong time to do it, as any amount of exercise is better than none. However, those who wish to optimize their workouts might try working out at different times of day to find what feels most advantageous.
Working out in the morning on an empty stomach is an ideal way to burn stored fat. Per Anthony Hackney, a professor in the department of exercise and sport science at U.N.C. Chapel Hill, natural elevation of cortisol and growth hormone levels in the morning results in more energy drawn from fat reserves, which can potentially aid weight loss. Additionally, morning exercisers tend to consume fewer calories and make healthier food choices, as well as have more consistent energy throughout the day. Some research suggests that exercising before life’s responsibilities interfere leads to improved consistency. As exercise is a great stress-reliever, morning activity may lead to a calmer, yet more productive day. If you’re truly not a morning person and find you’re exercising at a low intensity, a more energetic workout later in the day could be more beneficial.
If you can get out for a workout or walk during the lunch hour, it can help boost performance and focus. Some research has shown that the body naturally burns a slightly higher amount of calories during late afternoon compared to morning and evening. Research also suggests that the body is adaptable to consistent timing, resulting in better performance, higher oxygen consumption and lower perceived exhaustion over time. As well, the body’s core temperature may also influence exercise quality, since in late afternoon muscles are more flexible, body temperature is highest, heart rate and blood pressure levels are lowest and reaction time is quickest. Combined, this can mean better performance and less chance of injury.
Exercising after work or in the evening is a matter of convenience for many. Contrary to the popular belief, nighttime activity doesn’t necessarily interfere with sleep patterns, as long one doesn’t expect to sleep immediately following exercise. Stress relieving activity, such as yoga or gentle stretching, is recommended for relaxation, as well as a proper night’s sleep. Some evidence suggests that evening workouts can reduce levels of the hunger-stimulating hormone, ghrelin, further aiding weight management.
While the general consensus is that morning exercise is best, timing of exercise is personal. For most people the key is to exercise regularly at whatever time works with one’s daily routine. While one can be flexible and work out at different times on different days, scheduling a set time to exercise supports consistency and follow through. Activities such as walking, biking, swimming, dancing, yoga or strength training can be done at any time of day. Be sure to warm up cold muscles, especially in the morning and remain steadfast in your commitment for optimal health benefits.
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Eating and exercise: 5 tips to maximize your workouts. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20045506
The best time of day to work out might be later than you think, according to a physiologist. https://www.businessinsider.com/what-is-the-best-time-of-day-to-work-out-in-order-to-see-results-2018-2
What is the best time of day to exercise? It’s not when you think. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/what-is-the-best-time-of-day-to-exercise-its-not-when-you-think/2017/06/16/2020c3ba-51cf-11e7-be25-3a519335381c_story.html?utm_term=.ca52bfde2b65
When is the best time of day to work out? https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/when-is-the-best-time-of-day-to-work-out
Why morning people thrive. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/11/if-your-child-is-terrible-blame-his-chronotype/506372/