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When Is the Best Time to Work Out?

The benefits of working out are undeniable. Incorporating physical activity into your daily routine can change your life. Research shows that people who exercise are physically healthier. They have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes, chronic inflammation and even some types of cancer.

Beyond the physical health benefits, regular exercise can enhance visual recall (memory), improve mood and reduce anxiety. To reap physical and mental health benefits, there’s no best time to work out—as long as you’re active most days, you’ll be healthier thanks to a physically active lifestyle.

If you’re deciding when is the best time to work out, there are some factors to consider. Though exercise is healthy no matter what, morning vs. evening workouts are different experiences and can produce different effects on your performance. Let’s explore some of the different times to exercise and how different workout schedules impact you.

Morning Workouts

A morning workout is a great way to start your day, even if you’re not a morning person. Exercise boosts energy levels, and by getting your workout in early, you can benefit from that surge all day.

Additionally, there are some potential health benefits of morning exercise, including improved sleep quality. If you’re not a morning person, adopting a morning workout routine may help you become one. One of the biggest benefits of working out in the morning is that you get it out of the way, so there’s no risk of skipping it later in the day if you’re feeling too drained.

If you’re constantly digitally connected, exercising while everyone else is sleeping may be the only way you can really focus on your workout. But there are pros and cons of working out in the morning. If you’re not used to a morning workout routine, then don’t dive straight into becoming a morning person. You should adjust your schedule gradually—a sudden change in your sleep clock can leave you feeling groggy or moody all day.

To minimize prep time in the morning, lay out your workout gear the night before. If you’re the “coffee before people” type, you may find it easier to exercise at home, and plenty of fitness communities offer virtual, on-demand workouts that don’t require any special equipment. Eat a light, nutrient-dense breakfast before your morning exercise to provide your body with the fuel it needs to get through your workout. Keep hydrated before, during and after.

Read our Ultimate Guide to the Best Morning Workouts.

Lunchtime Workouts

Skipping lunch to work out is a definite no-no, but if you manage your time effectively, you should be able to fit a healthy lunch and a workout into your lunch break. Lunchtime is an excellent time to exercise, because you don’t have to get up any earlier, and you don’t have to give yourself a pep-talk when you’re feeling tired after work. It might also give you the endorphins you need to beat the notorious afternoon slump.

If you’re tight on time in the mornings and too tired to exercise after work, lunchtime may be the only time to exercise. Make it happen by packing a healthy lunch that you can eat on-the-go. Time spent preparing a complicated lunch during your lunch break, or worse, waiting for your order at a café, is valuable time wasted.

If there’s no on-site or nearby gym, don’t waste time trying to get from A to B. Find ways to exercise in the break room or in a park nearby. A brisk walk around the block is also a good option. Don’t forget to give yourself some extra time to freshen up at the end of your lunch break.

After-Work Workouts

Working out after work can be tough. It’s common to feel too mentally or physically tired after work to make it to the gym. Plus, the post-work crowds can be frustrating. A benefit of exercising after work is that it can boost energy and improve productivity through the evening if you have more work to catch up on.

If you’d like to start (and stick with) an after-work exercise routine, find a co-worker or friend who works the same hours and meet for a workout before you head home for the evening. If you’re struggling to balance the demands of an after-work workout and dinner preparations, prepare ingredients the evening before. If your meal reheats well, consider cooking it the evening before.

Evening Workouts

Exercise is a stress-buster. One of the benefits of working out at night is that it’s a great way to blow off steam. There’s some evidence that evening workouts might even help you sleep better, provided you end your session at least an hour before bed.

While some studies have shown that evening workouts hinder sleep, a 2018 analysis of 23 different studies found that exercising before bed actually improved sleep quality. However, the researchers also suggest avoiding vigorous exercise before bed, as this was shown to impact participants’ ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.

If you prefer nighttime workouts or evening exercise at home but are worried about it affecting your sleep, try ending your session with meditation or some yin yoga. Herbal teas, like chamomile and lemon bark, can have calming effects. Make your bedroom more conducive to sleep—cool, dark and quiet. Give yourself some time to settle down before bed. Aim for 30-60 minutes of screen-free, exercise-free, “me” time before bed. Read a book or take a warm bath to relax and let your mind know it’s time to unwind.

Learn more about creating an evening routine for better sleep and brighter mornings.

Developing Your Perfect Workout Schedule

Life is busy. When you’re going flat-out for eight, 10 or even 12 hours per day and you still need time for laundry, cooking and a social life, exercise may not be a priority. Remind yourself that your health is a priority and find time in your day to get active.

While research suggests that morning workouts may be easier to stick with and can set a positive tone for the rest of the day, a morning workout routine isn’t always feasible. A great workout routine is one that fits your life—one that you’ll stick to, don’t dread and doesn’t disrupt the rest of your day. When your workout routine fits into your day and isn’t forced, it’ll likely become something that you look forward to. 

Like any new habit, a new exercise routine requires a bit of getting used to. Keep your body hydrated and fueled with healthy food, and take a day off when you need one. If your schedule is unpredictable, it’s okay to shift your workout to a different time of day. If you’re pressed for time, remember, a 15-minute workout is better than no workout.

Sources:

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673612607351 
  2. https://journals.lww.com/co-psychiatry/Abstract/2005/03000/Exercise_and_well_being__a_review_of_mental_and.13.aspx
  3. http://perspectivesinmedicine.cshlp.org/content/8/7/a029694.full.pdf+html 
  4. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09602010802091183 
  5. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2001-11106-003 
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S016517811630909X 
  7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1054139X12001115 
  8. https://blog.myfitnesspal.com/8-great-things-about-exercising-at-lunch/
  9. https://www.fastcompany.com/90375037/i-tried-working-out-at-lunch-to-combat-my-3-p-m-slump
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30374942
  11. https://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/yin-101-try-these-3-poses-for-better-sleep
  12. https://www.sleep.org/articles/temperature-for-sleep/ 
  13. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2017-27629-001

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