Most everyone knows what their preferred schedule is and whether they’re morning people or night owls. Everyone’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm, is a little different, giving them the biggest boost at various times of the day. Even so, what time of day you want to exercise may not necessarily coincide with what type of schedule your body wants to keep. Additionally, studies show that there are different benefits to be gained in the morning vs the evening for working out. Meaning your goals may shape when the best time to exercise occurs. All things being equal though, the best time to work out is the time you commit to. Making exercise a healthy habit requires consistency, and even though you may like the idea of morning exercise, you might just not be equipped to make it happen regularly. Being able to exercise consistently at the same time of day, every day for weeks to months, is the best way to train your body and ensure working out becomes a habit.
Benefits of a morning work out
There are a wide range of studies that show the gains to be made from working out in the morning, but some principal takeaways show a big upside to early exercise.
You’ll shed more fat. By exercising first thing in the morning, you’ll be in a “fasted” state because of the periods between meals while you were sleeping. This means that your body is more likely to burn through your fat reserves than to use up the fuel from a recently “fed” state. While working out in the morning vs evening showed positive gains for study participants, there was an increased loss of belly fat for those that exercised in the morning.
Easier to form a habit. Studies show that morning exercisers are more likely to make working out a consistent habit. Part of the reasoning is the lessening of distractions in the morning. We all get busy, and it’s easy to put off working out in the evening when our plates have piled up. Working out first thing in the morning ensures that you knock it out before you get busy.
Mood and productivity boost. Exercise is great for improving food and cognitive ability, especially when done in the morning. The early morning workout helps to improve energy levels, alertness, focus, and decision making along with producing “happy” hormones that improve your mood throughout the day.
Unfortunately, there can be some drawbacks to an early morning exercise. Even though you might be shedding fat, if you’re working out on too little fuel, you could be fighting against severe hunger pains, making it difficult to exercise. Additionally, it takes longer for your body to warm up right after waking, so your muscles may be stiff and require extra attention before you fully commit to exercise.
Benefits of afternoon and evening work outs
There is a unique benefit to being able to exercise between 12 and 4 PM that only the few have the freedom to enjoy. The body has had enough time to warm up to peak performance before winding down in the evening. With that said, evening workouts tend to be the more popular alternative to the afternoon and come with very similar benefits.
Warmer body. As the day goes on, your body has acclimated to the day’s activity and warmed up to make exercise a little easier. This is in turn helps people to achieve greater gains from their workout as they can push themselves a little more. Power, strength, flexibility and endurance are all better in the evening vs the morning.
Stress relief after a full day. Evening exercise is a great way to decompress after a stressful day. The endorphins that run through your body are a great for combatting the stress filled chemicals that you’ve worked up from the day’s activity. Additionally, light forms of late-night exercise, like yoga, can also aid in helping you fall asleep faster.
Good habits replace bad. If you’ve got some bad habits like smoking, drinking, or too much TV, exercise in the evening is a great way to replace some of these other nasty habits that have you in their grip. By taking the time to work out for 30 minutes to an hour instead of binging one more episode, you’re making healthier choices with your time and forming healthier habits that work towards sustaining a happy life.
Just like morning exercise, there are some potential pitfalls with working out in the afternoon/evening to be wary of. Intense work outs, like CrossFit or HIIT, done too close to bedtime can actually make it more difficult to fall asleep, throwing off your circadian rhythm. This will ultimately drain your energy and make you less likely to work out the next day. Additionally, there’s still the ever-present issue of becoming too busy. If you’re waiting until the evening to exercise, you may be running up against other plans that get formed, putting off your ability to be consistent with your work outs. Bottom line is that morning, afternoon, or evening all come with their own benefits, but the truly best time to work out is the one that you stick to!