When is the best time of day to exercise?

As we find ourselves nearing the end of February, many of us might be looking back on those New Year’s Resolutions and reconsidering. You might be wondering, is it really realistic to squeeze in a workout every day? After all, we’re busy women! Some days it might just be impossible between juggling work and family responsibilities. However, all you really need is 11 minutes a day to receive a boost in health benefits from exercise. But when is the best time to exercise? Is it better to exercise in the morning? What about night workouts? 

It really all depends on you. There are benefits for both morning exercise and night workouts, but the key to choosing any workout is: consistency. 

If you’re a morning person, or find yourself with lots of free time in the early hours of the day, then a morning exercise routine would probably suit you best. However, if you’re a night owl, you may benefit from night exercises. Or maybe you’re only free in the afternoons. 

That being said, morning workouts, afternoon workouts, and night workouts all have their advantages and disadvantages as proven by decades of scientific research, so let’s breakdown the pros and cons of each. 

morning workout, best time to exercise

Rise and shine with a morning workout. (Photo by Mor Shani on Unsplash)

Benefits of morning workouts 

Help you establish a fitness routine: People who exercise in the morning are often more consistent simply because morning workouts leave less room for excuses. If you workout first thing in the morning, you can’t skip it in the evening because duties piled up. 

May improve your sleep cycle: Waking up early might be difficult at first, but research suggests that a morning exercise habit can shift your circadian rhythm, making your body naturally more alert in the morning and more tired in the evening, so you fall asleep earlier and can exercise in the morning again. Morning exercise also seems to boost deep sleep more than evening exercise, according to some research

Might burn more fat: Exercising on an empty stomach — in the “fasted state” — has been proven to burn more fat than exercising after a meal. This happens because your body utilizes fat stores that already exist to fuel exercise, rather than use the food you just ate as fuel.

Can make you more productive: Research has found that exercising in the morning has a beneficial effect on energy levels, alertness, focus and decision-making, resulting in a more productive workday.

May boost your mood throughout the day: Morning workouts are a great way to start each day on a high note — the endorphins or “happy chemicals” your body produces in response to exercise can keep your mood elevated long past your hour-long workout. 

Drawbacks of morning workouts 

Running on low fuel: If you didn’t eat enough the evening before, you might find yourself battling serious hunger mid-workout. If you wake up hungry most days, try eating a larger dinner or a small, protein-dense snack before bed. You can also eat a small, carb-heavy snack before your morning workout, such as a banana, to help avoid hunger and hunger-related fatigue. 

Physical performance isn’t at its peak: Most of us don’t roll out of bed feeling ready to do an exercise routine. You might experience stiffness in your joints and temporary inflexibility. You should loosen up as you warm up, but studies actually show that certain strength markers, including peak power, are higher in the evening.

It takes longer to warm up: Speaking of warm-ups, there’s a key reason you might not feel as strong or powerful during morning workouts: Your core body temperature is lower. This makes warming up crucial for morning workouts — jumping into a workout, rather than slowly easing in, can result in injury. This is true all of the time, but especially when your body is cooler. 

Benefits of afternoon and night workouts 

night workout

Photo by Zac Ong on Unsplash

Improved physical performance: Research shows that most people function better physically later in the day. Muscle strength, flexibility, power output and endurance are all better in the evening than they are in the morning. Plus, people who exercise in the evening take up to 20% longer to reach the point of exhaustion.

Your body gets warmer as the day goes on: Since your core temperature is warmer later in the day, many people can get into the groove faster for afternoon and evening workouts. You should still warm up though!

Late-day exercise can relieve stress: Exercise is a great way to relieve daily stress, but working out at night can really help you blow off some steam. The surge of endorphins you get during and after exercise can help you wind down before bed after a long day.  

Might help replace bad habits: If you have some evening or nighttime habits you want to replace — like snacking, drinking, smoking or binge watching TV shows — exercise can be a good replacement. Once you get into the practice of exercising at night, you might find yourself surprised that you don’t even miss your old habits. 

Drawbacks of afternoon and night workouts 

Might interfere with sleep: It’s a myth that night exercises are detrimental to one’s sleep. In fact, scientists have found that exercising at night may have no effects on sleep at all, and some may even get a better night’s sleep. However, some people might experience jitters if they work out too close to bedtime, though this usually only applies to high intensity workouts like CrossFit or HIIT.  

May cause problems with consistency: For many, exercising at night does not work, simply because people are too tired after a long day. Afternoon and evening workouts might interfere with daily responsibilities, especially if things tend to pile up during the day. If that sounds like you, try shifting your daily routine to fit in a short morning workout. 

Ultimately, the right time to exercise is not about how many calories you burn or how much weight you lift — it’s more about how you feel while exercising and how exercise fits into your own personal daily schedule. The key to finding the best time to exercise, is to find a time you can consistently stick to. Consistency is key. So, don’t go throwing your New Year’s Resolutions out the window just yet. You got this!  

About Victoria Arena

Victoria Arena is a writer and student, passionate about writing, literature, and women's studies. She is bilingual, fluent in both English and Spanish. In 2017, she received her Associates in Fine Arts for Creative Writing from Brookdale Community College. Now, she is working toward her Bachelor's in English Literature at Montclair State University. Along with literature, Victoria is interested in Gender and Sexuality Studies, which she is pursuing as a minor, focusing closely on women's issues, gender inequality, and LGBT issues. These studies provide her with a feminist lens, which influences her work from both fiction to academic writings.
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