When is the best time of day to work out?

Trying to find the best time for exercise? The truth is, it’s personal! Follow these tips to figure out what fitness routine works best for you.

Dawn, dusk or dead of night— when’s the best time to work out? Well, that depends on when’s the best time for you, because the benefits of physical activity depend upon how consistent you are.

You might have heard that the best time to exercise is early in the morning — to get your metabolism going or to avoid unexpected distractions during the day that could derail your workout. But if you’re not a morning person, it may not work for you to try to get up at dawn to work out. The key is to do what’s most likely to work for you consistently.

If your schedule isn’t predictable, you may need to be flexible and have a plan for various times of day.

If you find that working out too late in the evening keeps you from falling asleep easily, shift your exercise session earlier in the day or try less intense, more mindful forms of movement.

What May be More Important than When

To stay motivated, choose activities you enjoy. Walking, swimming or biking solo might be a better fit for you. If you’d like to spend more time with your family, find an activity you can all do together, like an after-dinner walk or game of soccer.

There are so many choices; don’t limit yourself to just one. Having a variety of fitness activities to choose from may keep you from getting bored or burned out.

Here are some activities you can do any time of day:

  • Walking, running and jogging
  • Swimming
  • Biking
  • Dancing and aerobics
  • Climbing stairs
  • Playing sports
  • Strength training and weights
  • Yoga and Pilates
  • Boxing and kickboxing
  • Martial arts and Tai Chi

There’s no one right time of day to get moving. So do it at the time that’s right for you.

The Case for Working Out in the Morning

Logistically, there are many pros to working out in the morning.

First of all, you’ll get your workout done and over with before you even start your day. That means you’ll begin your day with endorphins, and a good feeling knowing you accomplished something before 9 a.m. that some people won’t accomplish all day. And that’s a huge ego boost.

Furthermore, you won’t have to worry about working out later in the afternoon or evening. This can be a relief, leaving time for cooking dinner, socializing with friends, and just plain relaxing.

The Benefits (According to Science!)

Studies support the notion of working out in the morning hours. A study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise evaluated how women responded to food after working out first thing in the morning. When the participants — those of healthy body weights, and those who were obese — walked briskly for 45 minutes, they were less distracted by delicious-looking food photos compared to when they failed to exercise at all.

Building upon this morning activity, on days the participants exercised in the morning, they also increased their physical activity throughout the day more so than days they didn’t exercise in the morning. Additional benefits of hitting the gym in the morning include an increased metabolism, which means you’ll continue to burn calories throughout the day as you consume them rather than at night while you’re sleeping.

Other reasons to work out in the morning? Studies suggest that revving up your fitness regime in the evening could compromise your sleep. Exercise increases your heart rate and body temperature. That means that late night sweat sessions could be hindering your ability to get some shut-eye. Studies have shown that working out at 7 a.m., compared to later in the afternoon or evening, may help individuals get more quality sleep at night.

One more argument making the case for a workout first thing in the morning is that exercising on an empty stomach could burn more fat. Exercisers can burn up to 20 percent more body fat when hitting the gym with an empty stomach. This is a much more attainable feat in the morning, before breakfast, than after a full day during which you should be eating regularly!

The Case for Sweating in the Afternoon, or Night

While it certainly seems like the morning is an ideal time to work out, fitting in exercise in the afternoon or after hours has its proven perks. Planning on an evening workout may mean you get some extra shuteye in the morning. But there are other benefits, too!

The Benefits (According to Science!)

One study found that your body’s ability to perform peaks in the afternoon. Your body temperature increases throughout the day, optimizing your muscle function and strength, enzyme activity, and endurance for performance.

Between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., your body temperature is at its highest. This may mean you’ll be exercising during the window of time your body is most ready, potentially making it the most effective time of day to work out.

Additionally, oxygen uptake kinetics are faster in the evening, which means you use your resources more slowly and effectively than in the morning. Working out in the morning could also require adding an additional warm up to your routine, which could take away from the focus of your workout.

The case for working out in the afternoon and evening continues. In the afternoon and evening, your reaction time is at its quickest, which is important for exercises like high-intensity interval training (HIIT), or speed work on the treadmill. The late afternoon is also the time when your heart rate and blood pressure are lowest, which decreases your chance of injury while improving performance.

While some may caution individuals about how working out at night can disrupt your sleep, one study even found that those who lifted weights in the evening got better quality sleep and slept for longer than those who did the same workout in the morning.

The Verdict

So what time is best? While the science and studies seem contradictory, one thing is clear: Working out is important, no matter what time of day you do it.

What really matters is that you find a time of day that works for you and that fits your schedule, and then stick to it. By keeping your workout regime consistent at the same time every day, you could be making greater training gains. And isn’t that what really matters?

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