Some people swear by their morning workouts, saying it gets them energized for the day ahead. Others wouldn’t dream of hitting the gym before noon, saying they have a more effective workout if they are fully awake. But how much does the time of day you exercise actually matter?
There can be unexpected benefits to working out at certain times of day, though the time of day you choose to exercise will not affect your ability to get your heart rate up and get the oxygen flowing. According to some experts, the best time of day for exercise varies by person. You should work out when you feel your best, and when it fits into your schedule.
Some experts said the time of day you exercise is less important than making sure you exercise consistently at the same time each day. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) points out that exercising at different times each day is likely to wear you out. Still, any exercise is better than none, and it is important to fit in activity wherever you can.
Here are some of the benefits that come from morning or evening exercise and some ways to discover what your optimal exercise time might be.
Working up a sweat before noon
It can be hard to drag yourself out of bed and get moving in the morning. But, researchers found that those who exercise in the morning are more likely to exercise regularly and stick with a fitness program, wrote Michael R. Deschenes, a professor of kinesiology and health sciences at the College of William and Mary, for the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
Though your workout might not be as intense in the morning as it could be in the evening, men, in particular, can benefit from morning exercise, according to Deschenes. He explains that the ability to build muscle by lifting weights is highest at that time, because the level of testosterone – the main muscle-building hormone in men – tends to be higher in the morning.
If you plan to exercise in the morning, try finding a workout partner or make an appointment with a trainer. “That way you have someone else holding you accountable for showing up,” says Jacque Ratliff, an exercise physiologist with ACE.
Getting active after work
It can be tough to convince yourself to be active at the end of a long day. But, according to ACE, that might be when your workouts are most productive.
Your body temperature peaks in the late afternoon. ACE explains that when your body temperature is higher, your muscles are warm and flexible. Your reaction time is likely quicker, your resting heart rate and blood pressure are low, and you don’t feel like your workout takes as much effort as it might seem when your body is colder.
While men are able to build muscle easier earlier in the day, your muscles could actually be more powerful when your body temperature is higher, as stated by ACSM. You are also less likely to get hurt, because your muscles are warmer and more flexible.
As with morning exercise, try finding a partner or trainer to workout with in the evening. “If someone is waiting for you, you will be less likely to stay at work late, giving you more of an excuse to skip out on your exercise for the day,” says Ratliff.
Finding what works for you
Though there can be benefits to working out at certain times of day, the best time to exercise really depends on your body and your schedule. So how can you tell when you should be exercising?
Listen to your body. If you tend to get more done in the morning, that is when you should exercise, Ratliff says. But if you can’t get out of bed without hitting the snooze button nine times, go for an afternoon workout. You should try for 150 minutes (that’s two-and-a-half hours) each week to meet federal guidelines.
If you want to try exercising when your body is at its peak temperature, which might help if you are strength training, ACE recommends you track your body temperature every few hours for five or six consecutive days. Then, you can figure out what time of day your body is warmest – it should only be about one-and-a-half degrees warmer than it is at its average temperature. The Council suggests working out during the three hours before or after your body reaches its highest temperature.
Your body can get used to being active at a certain time of day if you consistently exercise at that time of day. Lewis Maharam, a sports-medicine and running-health expert, says if you are planning to run a marathon, you should train at the same time the event will take place.
Most importantly, he said, is to get exercise whenever possible. “If you’re fit, you’re going to be more productive.”