What time of day is the best time to exercise?
Working out during the morning or in the evening can have quite different benefits, a new study shows.
For some people, making coffee is the most they can manage in the morning, whilst others bounce out of bed and head off to exercise before work.
But regardless of whether you are amongst those who find it tempting to work out before work or school, is there an ideal for when in the day you should do it – for performance and effectiveness?
It depends on gender and what you want to achieve, according to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.
12 weeks of exercise
30 men and 26 women participated in the study over a 12-week period. The participants were between 25 and 55 years old and are described in the study as healthy, active, of normal weight, and non-smokers.
During the weeks of the study, they did either strength training, cardio, flexibility training, or endurance training.
In advance, participants were randomly selected to either work out for one hour in the morning or one hour in the evening.
Before and after the 12-week period, they were measured in, amongst other things, strength, fitness, and how high they jumped.
Different for men and women
All participants improved their general health and performed better after the program, regardless of whether they had worked out in the morning or evening.
However, working out in the morning compared to the evening seemed to work in slightly different ways.
The researchers conclude that women who are most concerned with reducing the amount of belly fat and at the same time gain strength in their legs should exercise in the morning.
Women who are more concerned with increasing their bodily strength, improve their mood and endurance, should exercise in the evening.
Men who worked out in the evening had especially improved blood pressure, metabolism and mood.
Different results in various studies
Although the new results are exciting, the study has relatively few participants. Also, existing research in the field is not clear-cut.
The results from the new study correspond well with another study forskning.no wrote about in 2017 (link in Norwegian). In that study, the researcher found that "combined strength and endurance training in the evening may lead to larger gains in muscle mass".
Results from a recently published mouse study (link in Norwegian) pointed to the fact that the evening was the best time for physical activity for rodents.
And since the evening is the beginning of a new day for mice, the researchers concluded that the morning must be the best time for exercise when they transfer the results to humans.
Morning exercise is best for sleep
In an article published on sciencenorway.no in 2016, researcher Sofie Laage-Christiansen said that there are many benefits to working out in the morning.
Amongst other things, it may have a positive impact on your sleep. It can help your body secrete the sleep hormone melatonin earlier in the evening.
At the same time, other hormones ensure that you have a good start to the day. When you exercise, your body secretes adrenaline – often referred to as the combat hormone. It comes in handy when you have to fight your way through another day of work.
Difficult tasks in the morning
“It is completely natural for your body to be on its toes in the morning. If you follow the natural circadian rhythm, you can really take advantage and get the most out of it,” Laage-Christiansen said in 2016.
Meanwhile, she explained that working out in the evening goes against the body's own plans to rest.
She believed that evening exercise can be compared to drinking coffee and eating sweets, which light an artificial light in your head until you go to sleep.
She added that she herself does her most difficult and draining tasks in the morning.
But as we know, our sleeping habits are very different and individualistic. So the conclusion from the research that exists in the field may be that it is smart to exercise when you feel that you perform best – and get a good night's sleep.
Translated by Alette Bjordal Gjellesvik.
Arciero, et al. Morning Exercise Reduces Abdominal Fat and Blood Pressure in Women; Evening Exercise Increases Muscular Performance in Women and Lowers Blood Pressure in Men, Frontiers in Physiology, 2022. DOI: 10.3389/fphys.2022.893783