Dawn or Dusk: When is the Best Time to Exercise?

Wellbeing Tips
December 16, 2020

When it comes to the timing of your workouts, everyone’s got a different opinion. But what does the research say, and is there a scientifically proven best time to exercise?

Whether you swear by 6 a.m. workouts or wouldn’t dream of heading down to the gym until midday, the best time to exercise has been a hot topic amongst fitness enthusiasts for decades. Read on for a clearer picture of whether it’s better to be an early bird or burn the midnight oil. Just remember to check with a doctor before you begin a new workout regimen!

What are the benefits of morning workouts?

Morning workouts are generally understood to be more effective than workouts at any other time of the day, at least where the layman’s concerned. Good news for early risers, but does the science support such claims? Well, many studies do support the idea that morning workouts are more effective than evening exercise, providing greater benefits around calorie intake, weight loss, and appetite control. Research has also indicated that early morning workouts—7 a.m. as opposed to 1 p.m. or 7 p.m.—may improve your quality and duration of sleep.
A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition about exercise and metabolism shows that exercising in the morning before breakfast can help burn more fat. On the other hand, if you have decided to break your record or challenge yourself, you should know that exercising on an empty stomach significantly reduces your energy, and therefore, your performance may suffer.

How about afternoon or evening workouts?

By contrast, plenty of people extol the benefits of evening workouts. Certain studies suggest that your alertness is higher and your reaction times are quicker in the afternoon, indicating that you may get more out of your workouts if you work out at this time. Furthermore, research has found that your body’s testosterone is higher in the evening than it is in the morning. Given that testosterone is one of the most important hormones for building muscle, this may suggest that you’re better off exercising later in the day.
Increasingly, people who have super-busy schedules tend to hit the gym late at night. Some studies suggest that working out later in the day can raise your intensity and help you tone your muscles more effectively, but the story isn’t universally positive. While physical activity generally has a positive effect on your sleep quality—check out this study by Withings for a little more information—there’s been some debate about the effects of late-night exercise on your sleep schedule. While some people argue that late-night workouts may actually help to improve your sleep, others suggest that they may actually keep you awake.
We asked Dr. Chris Winter, author of The Sleep Solution, for his opinion on the matter. He says, “Exercise is essential for quality sleep, and during our current pandemic, I think it is more important than ever to keep your activity up and protect your allotted rest time. Exercise provides a strong signal for wakefulness and circadian rhythm timing. It’s also an essential stress reliever, and there is plenty of that around!” But as to when one should exercise? Dr. Winter seems to side with the early birds, or at least, not the cardio night owls, saying, “Exercise is important, but engaging in it prior to bedtime can sometimes inhibit one’s ability to fall asleep quickly.”

Morning workouts vs. evening workouts: what’s the verdict?

Clearly, there are positives associated with both morning workouts and evening workouts, so let’s take a different approach. Instead of one specific time of day being better for exercise, it’s likely that the most important factor is consistency. By working at a time of day that you’re comfortable with, you can build up a routine that you can stick to. In the long run, that’s going to be the best thing for your health. After all, the difference between morning workouts and evening workouts is dwarfed by the difference between regular workouts and no workouts at all.

Bottom line: the most important thing is that you exercise, not necessarily that you exercise at a specific time of day. So, whether you prefer waking up at the crack of dawn or enjoy a quick stop at the gym on your way home from work, exercising on a consistent basis is the best way to see results.