The best time of day to exercise, according to science

Claire Zulkey, a 44-year-old freelance writer from the Chicago area, has a well-established morning routine: She takes her kids to school, turns the TV on her favorite show, and gets moving with a full-body workout. Once completed, Zulkey showers and gets to work.

Meghan Cully, on the other hand, works a full day before hitting the gym on the way home. The 32-year-old Maryland graphic designer describes himself as a “slow starter” in the mornings and finds it difficult to move early in the day.

Everyone does their exercise, but is one time of the day better than the other?

Consider your fitness goals

A small study from Skidmore College examined the benefits of morning versus evening exercise for both women and men. Paul J. Arciero, Ph.D., professor in Skidmore’s department of health sciences and human physiology, was the principal investigator.

“We had the groups follow the same multimodal routine, randomly dividing them into afternoon and morning groups,” he says. “We found that women and men respond differently to different types of exercise depending on the time of day, which surprised us.”

The study revealed that for women who want to lower blood pressure or reduce abdominal fat, morning exercise works best. Those women striving to gain upper body muscle, endurance, or improve overall mood should consider exercising in the evening.

For male participants, the findings were somewhat reversed: Evening exercise reduced blood pressure, heart disease risk, and feelings of fatigue, while, like women, they burned more fat with morning exercise. To understand the reasons behind the results, additional research is required.

So what might be more ideal, says Arciero, is to adjust your workouts to the time of day when you can get the most bang for your buck. “If you’re a woman, then you might want to do cardio in the morning and strength training in the evening,” he says.

Early risers versus night owls

“For many people, (the best time to exercise) will depend on their chronotype,” says Jennifer J. Heisz, Ph.D., associate professor of kinesiology at McMaster University and author of Move the body, heal the mind.

Chronotype is your body’s natural inclination to sleep at a certain time; It’s what determines whether you’re a night owl or an early riser. For the 25% of the population who consider themselves night owls, getting enough sleep and enough exercise can be difficult, Heisz says.

“Exercising at night can sometimes challenge social norms,” ​​she explains. “Naturally, you can stay up until midnight and exercise late into the night, but if you have to leave the next morning at 7, you’re not getting enough sleep.”

Sleep, which gives your body the time it needs to recover and reap benefits from exercise, should always be a priority when it comes to exercise. Regardless of the research on the benefits of certain exercises at certain times of the day, your results will be diminished if you don’t allow enough time for sleep.

How to change your training time

Whether your goal is to change your routine to meet Arciero’s findings related to time of day of exercise, or simply make exercise more convenient even if it goes against your chronotype, Heisz says it’s possible.

“If you want to switch to a morning routine, for example, the good news is that both sun and exercise can reset your biological signals,” he says. “If you combine them by exercising outdoors in the sun, you’ll get a powerful effect.”

For older adults, whose tendency is to sometimes wake up too early and not go back to sleep, nighttime exercise may be the desired change. “This could help you fall asleep later and stay asleep longer,” says Heisz.

If you’re concerned that late-night workouts will affect your ability to fall asleep, switch your workouts to gentler forms of exercise, such as yoga. Avoid vigorous exercise such as running, which could raise your heart rate and make it harder for you to relax.

For Cully, a nighttime exerciser, the trick is to exercise on the way home from work, far enough away from bedtime so as not to affect his sleep. “If I came home first, I probably wouldn’t exercise,” he admits. “But then I have all night to relax.”

No matter when you prefer to exercise, the most important thing, according to Arciero, is to include a multimodal approach. For his study, Arciero developed a program that does just that, called RISE: resistance training, sprint interval training, stretching and endurance. “We found that by doing each type of exercise once a week, compliance was higher and so was the benefit,” he explains.

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