When is the Best Time to Work Out?

In today’s fast-paced world, it can be challenging to find the time to work out. If you’re stressing over the best time to lose weight or build muscle, you might be relieved to know that the time you work out isn’t the biggest factor in having a great workout.

Time Isn’t as Important as Consistency

While there are numerous studies that discuss the perks of morning exercise and a few studies that explore the benefits of afternoon and evening exercise, consistency, not time of day, is more important.

The most important thing is that you exercise regularly. Ideally, you should work out at the same thing every day—a 2012 study found our bodies adjust and perform better if we work out at the same time every day, regardless of what that time is. However, if you have a varying schedule, you might need to be flexible about when you work out.

“There’s no one right time of day to get moving. So do it at the time that’s right for you,” the American Heart Association says.

You should also choose exercises you enjoy doing since you’re more likely to continue exercising if you have fun.

Dr. Jennifer Miller, physical therapist says, “People are busy so finding time to exercise can be a challenge. I encourage my patients to find a workout buddy, as they’re more likely to stick with a fitness program if they have a friend to hold them accountable. I also offer patients the option of walking for ten minutes, three times a day vs. 30 consecutive minutes. That way they can walk on a break at work. In regards to resistance training, studies have shown that performing two sets of a strength training activity is about 83% as effective as three sets—so if you only have time for two, that’s ok!”

Benefits of Morning Exercise

If you’re an early bird who’s up at the crack of dawn, you’ll be glad to know that research suggests morning is one of the best times to exercise.

Morning workouts may help with weight loss. A 2019 study observed overweight adults in a 10-month exercise program, with participants free to choose when they worked out for five days a week. The morning group exercised between 7 a.m. to shortly before noon, while another group exercised between 3 to 7 p.m., and a third group varied the times of their workouts. The morning group “lost significantly more weight” than the late afternoon to evening group.

Morning workouts may also prevent overeating—a 2012 study found that working out in the morning at a moderate to vigorous intensity lowered a woman’s appetite. Each participant walked “briskly” on a treadmill for 45 minutes, and researchers then measured their brainwaves to see how the women responded to images of food. The workouts decreased the brain’s response to food images, and the women reported higher amounts of physical activity on days they had a morning workout.

If you want to become an early morning person, you can do so by establishing a new sleep schedule. Wake up earlier, and you’ll soon find yourself falling asleep earlier as well. You might feel tired the first few days, but if you stick to your schedule even on weekends, you can adapt and even thrive.

Will Working Out Late Prevent Sleep?

It’s commonly believed that evening workouts can prevent you from falling asleep. Your body lowers your core temperature when it’s preparing for sleep, and exercise raises your body temperature—so you shouldn’t exercise too close to bedtime, right?

While not entirely untrue, recent research clarifies that some but not all physical activity close to bedtime can improve sleep.

A 2018 review in Sports Medicine examined 23 studies that evaluated participants’ quality of sleep and how quickly they fell asleep. The study concluded evening exercise actually helps you fall asleep better, with one exception—an intense workout less than an hour before bed left participants struggling to fall asleep.

How to Have a Good Workout

Once you’ve decided what time you want to work out, you can begin structuring your fitness routine. According to the American Heart Association, you should spend 150 minutes a week on moderate aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, dancing, gardening, and water aerobics. And you should spend at least two days a week on muscle strengthening, such as lifting weights or resistance training.

You should always warm up your muscles before you begin a full workout, since exercising with “cold” muscles may cause injury. Similarly, cooling down after a workout prevents cramps and dizziness, and better stabilizes your heart rate and breathing.

A basic warm-up can be 5 to 10 minutes walking in place while swinging your arms, doing a few dance moves, or basic cardio exercises such as jumping jacks and lunges. You should work all your muscle groups. A cool-down should involve 5 to 10 minutes flowing through slow stretches—spend about 30 to 60 seconds in each stretch.

Staying hydrated during exercise is very important. However, avoid sugary sports drinks during and after exercise, because they contain empty calories—stick with water instead.

If you didn’t get a good night’s sleep, you might not want to work out too hard. Sleep deprivation affects your performanceand athletes are more likely to injure themselves if they’ve missed out on sleep. It’s better to skip a day and rest up than put yourself out of commission for a few days or even weeks.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it better to work out in the morning or at night?

The best times of day to exercise are when you’re most able to, no matter if it’s morning, late afternoon, or early evening. It’s more important you work out at a consistent time every day.

Is it better to exercise on an empty stomach?

According to a 2019 review, there is evidence that young, healthy men benefit from exercising on an empty stomach. Still, more research is needed to see if people with conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity benefit from fasting before workouts. For people who exercise in the morning, it may be beneficial to have a small snack prior to exercise, such as a piece of toast with peanut butter, oatmeal, or eggs.

Is coffee a good pre-workout drink?

Research shows it is. A 2013 study examined eight cyclists and triathletes who consumed a caffeinated drink, coffee, decaffeinated coffee, or a placebo one hour before an endurance-based workout, and coffee and caffeine improved their performance. Similarly, a 2016 study found that coffee and caffeine improved performance during resistance training.

Did We Help?

Your ideal workout time largely comes down to your schedule and personal preferences. You can become a morning person and reap the benefits of an early workout, but if a lunchtime or post-work exercise routine fits better in your schedule, go for it. What’s most important is that you’re motivated to exercise regularly.

This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.

Andrew Russell, Wellness Writer Andrew Russell

Andrew Russell is a part-time writer and full-time sleep enthusiast. At Zoma, Andrew lends his sleep expertise and writes many of our “better sleep” guides. Outside of Zoma, Andrew puts his advice to the test, always trying new ways to get deeper, more restorative sleep. We appreciate Andrew because he doesn’t give advice that he doesn’t follow himself, so you can feel confident his solutions for better sleep really do the trick.

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