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Best Time to Exercise? Morning, Afternoon or Whenever
August 4, 2021

Your alarm goes off. You take off your sleeping mask, fully rested and ready to greet the morning sun. It’s 5 am. You slip into your running shoes and go out for a jog. The birds are chirping, and the crisp air wakes up your skin. Nothing beats this feeling.

Reality check: Early morning workouts don’t work for everyone. Many of us try to fit into this mold, touted by fitness trainers and productivity gurus alike as the cornerstone to success. But a lack of sleep can make you more prone to injury, and leave you unfocused and unproductive for the rest of the day.

And even if you wake up at a reasonable hour for you, you might have other commitments like getting kids ready for school or early meetings that make a morning sweat session unfeasible. Heck, it might just be harder for you to get your blood pumping in the morning. You don’t want your workout to feel like a slog. By trying to fit into someone else’s ideals, we fail because we’re not listening to our bodies or adapting to our schedules.

The bottom line: While you can optimize for time of day, exercise has its perks, no matter when you do it. Exercising for as little as 15 minutes a day can increase your lifespan by as much as 3 years, and you’ll sleep better and feel less stressed too. Neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki claims, “Exercise is the most transformative thing you can do for your brain,” citing long-lasting improvements in mood, focus, and attention. The important thing is that you make time for this healthy habit.

Ultimately, everybody will respond differently to workout times and intensities. The best time of day to work out is when it feels good for you, and the only way to figure out your ideal workout schedule is to experiment with different times of the day. And if an all-over-the-place schedule means you work out whenever it fits into your schedule, that’s great too! Adapt your workout intensity to suit what feels best at that time.

In this post, learn about the advantages of a morning workout routine, afternoon, or just exercising whenever you can to see what time of day fits best for your health and fitness lifestyle and goals.

Morning workout benefits

There are plenty of practical benefits to working out for early birds. Some advantages to working out in the morning include:

  • Get it out of the way at a time when you’re less likely to be disrupted by other responsibilities. 
  • Start the day with mood-boosting hormones, which can give you a positive outlook and increased focus for the rest of the day. 
  • Beat the heat if you’re exercising outdoors. 
  • And you don’t have to worry about meal planning around exercise; you can guarantee an empty stomach to avoid a stomachache.

One study found that morning exercise might be more effective for weight loss because of a correlation between the time of day a participant exercised and how much weight they lost. But it’s important to note the study was not designed to analyze time of day, so the evidence isn’t conclusive. What is conclusive is that, as health data analyst Erik Willis pointed out, “Any exercise, at any time of day, is going to be better than none.”

Also intriguing: those who worked out in the morning were more likely to be active throughout the day than those who worked out at other times of day.

Sleep quality is also worth considering. Blood pressure lowers while you’re sleeping to reduce impact on your cardiovascular system. In a study on the effect of time of exercise on blood pressure during sleep, participants who exercised at 7 am had lower blood pressure during sleep compared to those that exercised at 1 pm or 7 pm, indicating greater quality of sleep.

On the other hand, early research suggests a morning workout can negatively impact blood sugar control. One study found that intense morning exercise results in more blood sugar spikes in men with type 2 diabetes, while similar workouts in the afternoon keep blood sugar more stable throughout the day. While this early research is specific to diabetics, anyone can experience blood sugar spikes which can cause short-term and long-term health problems. So if you’re working out in the morning, consider keeping it to light activities like yoga or a short jog while doing what you can to keep blood sugar even.

Also, your body temperature will be lower in the morning, so you’re more likely to get injured without a proper warmup. When your muscles are colder, the tissues are less elastic and easier to tear. So if you do exercise in the morning, be sure to get your blood pumping to raise your body temperature and prep your body for your workout.

Afternoon workout benefits

In addition to improving blood glucose levels in men with type 2 diabetes compared to morning exercise, it turns out that exercising between 2 and 6 pm is better for athletic performance and injury prevention.

Since your body temperature rises throughout the day, your muscle strength peaks between 2 and 6 pm, and lungs function most efficiently at 5 pm. Eye-hand coordination peaks in late afternoon, making it a good time for sports that use equipment, like tennis or football. And muscles and joints are more flexible later in the day, so you’re less prone to injury. Reaction time is also quicker later in the day, making it an ideal time for speed drills or HIIT workouts.

Plus, plugging in an afternoon workout can give your mind a much-needed break from work so you can come back refreshed. Or, head to the gym right after work. It’s a convenient way to get in physical activity while creating a transition between work and life, particularly if you’re working from home.

One study suggests a 7 pm evening workout can lead to lower sleep quality compared to a 7 am or 1 pm workout, so when you have a choice, it’s probably best to exercise in the 2-6 pm range for later workouts.

Whenever workout benefits

Sometimes you’re so busy it feels impossible to find a consistent workout time. While consistency is ideal, the most important thing is that you’re getting exercise into your schedule on a regular basis. The benefit to letting go of a single ideal time of day is that you still get a workout in while navigating a busy or changing schedule.

Depending on your responsibilities, maybe you exercise in the morning some days, evenings on other days, or plug in a 30-minute workout between workday meetings or family events on the weekends. Whenever you can get your body in motion is a great time to work out.

If you struggle to find a solid 30-minute block of time for a workout, why not take advantage of work breaks to plug in 5-minutes of exercise to boost your heart rate and energy levels throughout the day?

Research shows mini-workouts throughout the day can be just as effective as one long session. Plus, as far as work is concerned, you’ll be more productive with frequent breaks. Whether you’re in a deep focus state or have a lot of meetings, plug in a quick workout to give your eyes a break from the screen and recharge your mind. This 7-minute high-intensity workout is backed by science.

You can also keep a few of your favorite exercises in your back pocket. To get started, here are a few classics that don’t require any equipment: jumping jacks, push-ups, planks, lunges, squats, palms-to-elbows, sit-ups, calf raises, glute bridges. There are tons of variations you can do to keep your workouts interesting.


Get exercise into your calendar

As data analyst Dr. Willis pointed out, any exercise is better than no exercise. So if you can’t work out when you want to, plug it in when you can. You’ll still get the health benefits you’re seeking. And don’t forget to prioritize yourself when you have the option. Make sure you get your workout in by blocking off time in your calendar.

And, we know, the desire to be flexible is real. It can feel weird to block off exactly 3-3:30 pm for an afternoon workout when you’ll happily move it up a half hour if that’s the only time someone else is available to meet with you. That’s where Reclaim comes in.

Reclaim creates flexible blocks on your calendar for any Habit or regular routine you want to set aside time for like email catch-up, lunch, or a workout. You choose how aggressively you want to defend your Habit, and Reclaim will automatically find the best time in your schedule across both your work and personal calendars. These time block events stay “free” on your calendar to maximize your availability, and then flip to “busy” events once you start to run out of options on your calendar to make sure this time is protected.
Best of all? Habits and Calendar Sync at Reclaim are free forever, so give it a try to rebalance your week and prioritize your healthy exercise routine.

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