The best time of day to workout for your health and energy levels according to exercise scientists
- The best time to workout depends on your own personal preferences and performance goals.
- Working out in the morning can help you sleep better and may even lower your blood pressure.
- If you workout in the afternoon or evening you may be able to lift more weight or run an extra lap.
- This article was reviewed by Joey Thurman, CSCS, CPT, FNS, a Chicago-based fitness expert and MYX Fitness coach.
- For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
Exercise scientists say working out at different times of the day may provide different health and performance perks.
For example, you may find you sleep better at night if you go for a run in the morning, set new personal records if you lift in the afternoon, or ease anxiety if you practice evening yoga.
Here's what you should know about the various health benefits of exercising in the morning, afternoon, and evening.
A morning jump-start
Working out during the day may provide the following health benefits:
1. Morning exercise can help you sleep better
Exercise has a strong relationship with our circadian rhythm, a 24-hour body clock that regulates when it's time to eat, sleep, and wake, among other functions. Physical activity keeps our circadian rhythm on track. In turn, our circadian rhythm can affect our physical performance.
Both exercise and bright daylight are powerful circadian signals. They help schedule the release of melatonin, a hormone responsible for sleep. Sweating outside first thing in the morning leads to an earlier release of melatonin, which can keep you from laying awake at night.
Additionally, a 2014 study published in Vascular Health Risk Management found that those who worked out in the morning reported a deeper sleep on average, when compared to working out in the afternoon or at night.
2. Morning exercise can set you up for a calmer day
Exercise helps burn off adrenaline, a stress-fueled hormone that triggers our fight-or-flight response. Less adrenaline will not only make us feel calmer, but it can also promote the production of endorphins. Endorphins are amino acid compounds that ease pain and produce a sense of well-being.
Working out first thing in the morning means these mood-regulating hormones are kept in check as we start our day. Plus, it can give you a sense of accomplishment that might help set you up for a calmer, more productive day.
"You're not sitting around all day thinking, 'I gotta get my workout done," says Christopher Lundstrom, a running coach and lecturer in sports and exercise science at the University of Minnesota.
3. Morning exercise can lower your blood pressure
A 2014 study published in Vascular Health Risk Management examined 20 people with borderline hypertension, or elevated blood pressure. It found that working out in the morning reduced the participants' blood pressure more than if they worked out later in the day.
Specifically, participants who exercised on a treadmill at 7 a.m., versus 1 p.m. or 7 p.m., reduced their mean overnight blood pressure by more than 16%. Having a lower blood pressure can reduce your risk for stroke or heart disease, and that's why experts recommend regular exercise to improve heart health.
4. Morning exercise can promote weight loss
A 2019 study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that morning exercise helped participants lose more weight than exercising at any other time of day.
The study followed 88 overweight or obese adults who began a 10-month aerobic exercise program. It found that 81% of those who exercised before noon lost 5% of their weight. Meanwhile, only 36% of those who worked out after 3 p.m. saw the same amount of weight loss.
For more information, read about how to lose weight and keep it off safely.
The afternoon sweat
As you go about your day, shifting hormone levels can promote better athletic performance — a boost for those who prefer an afternoon workout.
1. Afternoon exercise may help you perform better
If you are looking to run faster or lift more weight, you're most likely to break your personal records in the afternoon. That's because your metabolism is in full gear.
"You're a little more primed for high intensity performance," says Shawn Arent, professor at the University of South Carolina and director of its Sport Science Lab. "You have also probably eaten more carbohydrates by that time, so your gas tank is topped off."
Carbohydrates are quickly digested and metabolised, making them the body's go-to fuel for bursts of vigorous activity. With nourishment from both breakfast and lunch, your body is prepped for a high intensity workout, says Arent.
2. Afternoon exercise is a better choice for late sleepers
For those who struggle to pry themselves out of bed, an afternoon sweat sesh may be best. That's because circadian rhythms and the levels of hormones that influence them, including melatonin and cortisol, differ from person to person. Not everyone is designed to be an early bird.
Overall, you are likely to enjoy exercising more, and work out with more intensity and consistency, if you do it when you feel most energetic.
An evening push
Some people haven't lost their capacity for vigorous activity at day's end. In fact, you may be able to get many of the same benefits as exercising earlier in the day, plus a few new ones.
1. Evening exercise may give you more endurance
A 2019 study published in Cell Metabolism found that people use less oxygen during an evening workout compared to other times of the day. Lower oxygen consumption means a lower heart rate — making exercise feel less intense. Therefore, your body is more energy efficient at night, meaning you may be able to run a few more laps or push through a few more sets.
2. Evening exercise can help you relieve stress
"Some people like to cap their day with a vigorous workout to blow off steam and get their mind off of work," Lundstrom says.
A research analysis published in 2008 in the Journal of Sports Psychology backs up Lundstrom's claims that exercise relieves stress. It found that a single workout can reduce anxiety. Anxiety often exacerbates sleeping troubles orinsomnia, so relieving stress at the end of the day may help you sleep better.
But don't work out too close to bedtime — a high-intensity workout within one hour of hitting the sack might make it more difficult to fall asleep.
3. Evening exercise may help you prep for bed
"Finishing up the day with a relaxing activity, like yoga, is a great way to integrate a calming, meditative practice with a more vigorous workout earlier in the day," Lundstrom says.
For more information, read about the best breathing exercises for sleep.
The bottom line
Regular exercise has proven to be one of the most important activities you can do for your health. Overall, the American Heart Association recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week, and when you do it is less important.
"There is no one perfect time to exercise other than the one where you'll do it," Arent says. Our environments, circadian rhythms, and preferences differ widely, so the best time to workout will vary from person to person.
However, it can help to schedule your workout like an appointment, ensuring you move in the same general window of time. When exercise becomes a reliable routine, it becomes a habit, and, "good habits are as hard to break as bad ones," says Arent