Over the years there have been numerous studies designed to unearth the ideal time to exercise, but to be honest, credible scientific evidence is still pretty thin on the ground. The good news is, a new study out of Australia has introduced a new dynamic – which has reignited interest in this hotly debated topic.
For the first time, this latest study focused on exercise in conjunction with diet (past studies have not considered diet, therefore making it difficult to differentiate the effects of exercise, and the timing of workouts, from how people fuel their bodies). The researchers worked with a group of sedentary, overweight men who ate a fatty diet. After introducing a varied exercise program, the researchers found that regardless of when the study participants exercised, they enjoyed similar improvements in cardio fitness. However, those who exercised later in the day also saw lower cholesterol levels, better blood-sugar control, and improved cardiovascular molecular patterns in their bloodstreams – all important markers for improved metabolic health.
While these new findings are insightful for couch-loving, fried-food eating blokes, for the rest of us, they provide no concrete recommendation. It seems the best time to exercise is still very much up in the air.
“If you want to get the best from your workout, simply work out whenever feels good,” says Bryce Hastings, Les Mills Head of Research.
“By scheduling in exercise for the time that works best for you, you’re more likely to enjoy it. When you enjoy exercise you stick with it, and that’s where habits are born. Once exercise becomes a habit, the results really kick in.”
“Sure, there’s a chance your body will burn calories differently at different times of the day, but these differences will be minimal compared to the benefit of exercising regularly. How much you benefit from exercise is closely linked to the amount of consistent physical activity you do,” he adds.
Creating consistency relies on a little trial and error. Hastings suggests trying the same workout at different times of the day. Take note of how you feel while you’re exercising and what works best with your schedule.
If you still can’t establish the workout time that best suits you, here are a few standout findings to consider.
The benefits of exercise in the morning
When it comes to establishing a habit, many people argue that morning workouts are best. By exercising early in the day, you can tick off your physical activity before any competing priorities, disturbances or excuses come into play. As a result, there's more chance of consistency.
Morning exercise makes exercising on an empty stomach more feasible, and research shows you can burn more fat if you train in a fasted state. There’s also some evidence that the after-burn effects of exercise can last longer if you train in the morning.
Early morning exercise may help you cement a good sleep cycle. Research indicates it can shift your circadian rhythm so that you naturally feel more alert in the morning and tired at night.
Studies also show that exercising early in the day can bolster your productivity – making you more alert, focused and energized with greater decision-making ability.
The secret to getting the most from early morning exercise is to wake refreshed, invigorated and ready to raise your heart rate. This makes a good bedtime routine essential. Working on your computer or eating late in the evening may sabotage your body's ability to sleep and make getting up that much harder.
The benefits of exercise later in the day
Exercising in the evening can be ideal for alleviating the day's stresses. If you've had plenty of opportunities to eat and fuel your body through the day, you're in a better position to push your limits and take your workout up a notch.
Physical performance, such as muscle strength, flexibility, power and endurance, can often be better in the evening, which is why some experts recommend doing strength training and HIIT workouts at night if you can.
Those who exercise in the evening can take up to 20 percent longer to reach the point of exhaustion, which suggests they can work out for longer and enjoy more fitness benefits.
Your core temperature is warmer later in the day, so you are more likely to accelerate your training without the need for a lengthy warm-up period. What's more, testosterone production (which is important for building muscle in both men and women) is shown to be greater during afternoon and evening workouts than during morning exercise.
When workouts are ticked off later in the day it may aid metabolic health by smoothing blood-sugar spikes and may also improve heart health and the control of type 2 diabetes. There’s also evidence that evening exercise has been shown to help lessen the impact of poor diet.
Lastly, there’s no credible evidence that evening exercise can disrupt sleeping patterns. In fact, if you choose wisely, your workout can promote good sleep. A new study of BODYBALANCE/BODYFLOW reveals pre-bedtime yoga and meditation session can improve sleep, boost positive feelings, and enhance recovery from mental as well as physical stress.
You don't need to wait until the evening to exercise. Many find that escaping the office for a midday workout can be invigorating. It can arm you with more energy, aid productivity and even see you through that dreaded mid-afternoon slump.
The most important thing to know: any exercise is good exercise. Doing exercise at a time that works for you is much better than doing no exercise at all.
If you ever feel like your motivation is lacking, it’s a good idea to aim to exercise first thing in the morning. You are far better off ticking off your workout, than planning it for the afternoon and then never getting to it. And if mornings are not your thing, there’s good news. There’s a strong chance you can learn to become a morning person, as research suggests that over time your body can adapt to regular training cycles.