Whether you start the day with a workout or you prefer to sweat it out after a stressful day, it’s a given that you are better off exercising at any point during the day than not exercising at all. That said, it turns out that depending on your goals, when you work out may make a difference.
A recent study at Appalachian State University found that morning workouts are best if you want a better night’s sleep (who doesn’t want that?). The researchers tracked the sleep patterns of subjects who walked for 30 minutes, three times a week, at three different times: 7 a.m., 1 p.m. or 7 p.m. Those who walked at 7 a.m. slept longer and had deeper sleep cycles than those who exercised at other points in the day. In fact, the morning crowd spent up to 75% more time in the reparative “deep sleep” stage at night. Further, those who exercised earlier also experienced a 10% reduction in blood pressure during the day and a 25% dip at night.
The sleep changes that occur with morning exercise can alter our bodies mentally and physically, according to Scott Collier, PhD, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor in the department of health, leisure and exercise science at Appalachian State University. “The better you sleep, the better it is for your body,” explains Dr. Collier. “It increases your cardio health, decreases stress and anxiety, helps you maintain your weight and lowers your blood pressure. Plus, the more time spent in deep sleep, the more time your body has to repair itself.” While morning exercisers can reap these rewards, along with a greater likelihood of sticking to their workouts, afternoon exercise comes with its own physical and psychological benefits, too.
A small study found that afternoon exercise boosts workout performance. Researchers analyzed a group of cyclists who worked out at 6 a.m. or 6 p.m. and found that the evening exercises had higher power outputs. They theorized that the more complex the movements required to perform the exercise are, the more that the time of day can impact the performance. Further, because our core body temperatures are higher in the afternoon, making our muscles and joints more adaptable to exercise, we may even be less prone to workout-related injuries.
In regards to weight loss, it’s a toss-up between mornings and evenings. In a study of post-menopausal women, participants were split into two groups: one group walked in the morning and the other walked in the evening. At the end of the study, those who walked in the evening did better overall with weight loss, losing more fat mass than morning walkers. Inversely, some research also demonstrates that exercising in a fasted state – which is usually only possible before breakfast – is better for weight loss because our bodies burn a greater percentage of fat for fuel during exercise, instead of relying on carbohydrates from food. However, the jury is out on this one and it seems like fasted cardio is more a preference for some than an evidence-based method.
The bottom line is simple: don’t sweat the time of day too much – just break a sweat whenever you can. Although it is not always realistic to exercise at a certain time, however, designing and following-thru with a workout schedule guarantees you time to work out and also helps you develop healthy habits and patterns. Exercise is beneficial regardless of the time of day you do it. That is indisputable!
I came across the following noteworthy facts while completing research for this article.
– Testosterone is at its daily peak
– Mental altertness peaks at late morning
– Memory works the best
– Body temperature is still low
– Pain tolerance is at its highest
– Possible point of low energy around noon
– Late afternoon, adrenalin and body temperature tend to rise
– Late afternoon, there is an optimum priod of mental/physical function balance
– Lung performance is at its best
– Flexibility and strength are at their greatest
– Mental focus begins to wane
– Starting around 9PM, the body begin to produce additional melatonin to prepare itself for sleep
– Bodily processes should be slowing down in preparation for sleep