Does the early bird always get the worm? Well, no, at least not when it comes to working out. In fact, research shows that there are benefits to working out in the morning and at night. So which time is right for you?
While there is no definitive answer as to when you should hit the gym (or the yoga studio, or the pavement), there are clear advantages and disadvantages to each time of day. Let's break it down:
PROS TO MORNING WORKOUTS
You'll boost your energy for the rest of the day.
Working out boosts endorphins and other mood-elevating substances that can help lift your spirits as you take on the day, says Dr. Cedric Bryant, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer of the American Council of Exercise. "Morning workouts result in better energy levels throughout the day and give you more mental alertness and sharpness," he says.
You can get a better night's sleep.
In 2011, health researchers at Appalachian State University found that, perhaps counterintuitively, exercising in the morning helps you sleep better at night. From the study:
In all cases, those who exercised at 7 a.m. experienced about a 10 percent reduction in blood pressure that carried through the remainder of the day. They also had about a 25 percent dip in blood pressure at night, slept longer and had more beneficial sleep cycles than when they exercised at other times of the day.
Working out in the AM makes it easier to stick to a routine.
Bryant says that working out in the mornings helps maintain a regular habit of being physically active, because a person is less likely to skip workouts due to scheduling conflicts or other demands. Remember: Consistency is key.
CONS TO MORNING WORKOUTS
You have to wake up, well, early.
If you're not an early riser, getting out of the bed in the morning can be extremely difficult, especially on a recurring basis. Bryant warns that if you're not used to exercising in the mornings and force yourself to get up, you may not put as much effort into the exercise as you would later in the day. In addition, if you aren't careful, you can disrupt your sleep schedule, which can lead to sleep deprivation.
Not to mention, hitting the gym before work can pose a challenge in terms of scheduling. If you work a 9 to 5 job, getting ready for work and commuting can cut your morning workout short, Bryant notes.
You need to spend more time warming up.
You need to spend more time warming up in the morning because your muscles and joints tend to stiffen, Bryant advises. This is especially important if you plan on taking on a more vigorous and challenging workout.
Further supporting this important point, Dr. Michael Smolensky, an adjunct professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Austin, Texas, mentioned in a Wall Street Journal article that joints and muscles are as much as 20 percent more flexible in the evening.
PROS TO EVENING WORKOUTS
Your mornings will be calmer.
Not only can you catch some extra zZz's, but you don't have to worry about packing a change of clothes, grabbing a post-workout breakfast, quickly showering at the gym and rushing to work on time. That's less stress for a lot of people.
It's a great way to blow off steam from the day.
Had a rough day at work? Sweat out all those anxieties and frustrations at the gym.
Bryant says that an evening workout can help you de-stress and clear your mind from everything that took place during the day. It also serves as a nice transition period between being at work and coming home, and can help you be present with your family and loved ones.
An added perk, if you had a difficult day, is that exercising in the evening "could provide a boost of energy for the remainder of the day," per Dr. Jeffrey Potteiger, Ph.D., Dean of Graduate Studies at Grand Valley State University and fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine. So turn that frown upside down!
Your body is more physically prepared in the evening.
Remember that WSJ article from before? Yeah. Your joints and muscles are much more flexible in the evening, which means you're less prone to injuries.
You can work out for longer.
Without work hanging over your head, you can spend more time exercising. This means extra warm-up time, post workout stretching and longer rest periods in between sets.
CONS TO EVENING WORKOUTS
There's a greater chance of distractions (ehm, happy hour?) that can tempt you to skip the gym.
Whether it's drinks with friends or last minute dinner plan, distractions are more likely to pop up in the evening, which can squeeze the workout out of your schedule. Bryant also points out that after a long day, you may not feel like you have the energy to work out. It may be easier to opt for an evening of binge-watching Netflix on the couch. (Not that we're judging!)
It might limit the types of workout that you do.
Safety concerns rise in the evenings, particularly outdoor trainings during winter time. Bryant notes that it gets dark earlier in the winter months, and the weather becomes unpredictable and more difficult to exercise in. Which means you might have to restrict your workouts to indoor activities.
You might have to fight the gym crowds.
Don't be surprised if it's difficult to get the machine or a spot in that fitness class you want, if you go in the evening. Fitness facilities are generally more crowded at the end of the work day, notes Potteiger. This can make working out less efficient.
You might experience sleep disruption if you exercise too close to bedtime.
If you work out two to three hours before bedtime, you may be affecting the quality of your sleep, says Bryant. "Your state of arousal is higher because you have higher circulating levels of stress hormones," he says, "which can make it more challenging to fall asleep." Though this depends on the intensity of the workout.
On the other hand, Bryant says that stretching or yoga are great ways to wind down and unplug from a busy day.
Any time you work out is the best time. "It is important to find a routine that works best for you and that you can perform consistently," says Bryant, who adds that even habits "may vary on a day-to-day or a seasonal basis."
"Be flexible enough to give yourself the best chance of being active regularly," he adds.
Potteiger stresses the importance of trying "different times of day to see what makes you feel the best, not only immediately after the workout but throughout the next several hours."
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