There are early birds and there are night owls. In the context of the gym, does the time one chooses to be active really matter?

Some people flock to the weights before the sun even rises to start their day on a productive note, while others prefer to work out by themselves once the rest of the world has gone to sleep. Most people, on the other hand, have no choice but to squeeze in exercise whenever they’re able, whether that’s before or after work.

It’s important to consider how exercising at different times of the day can affect not only your health, but your mood.

Morning exercise

You’ll have more control of your time. Morning exercise offers a number of benefits, most of which have to do with time. Working out in the morning is the best option for people who have difficulty maintaining the habit of exercise. Scheduling exercise for first thing in the morning not only ensures that it’ll be at the top of your to-do list for the day but keeps you more focused on other tasks. In an interview with TIME, Cedric Bryant, PhD, a chief science officer with the American Council on Exercise in San Diego, said, “Research suggests in terms of performing a consistent exercise habit, individuals who exercise in the morning tend to do better.”

You’ll have better weight loss success. Exercising in the morning is also the best for weight loss, considering that the workouts would be done on an empty stomach. In the morning, the body has higher levels of growth hormone and cortisol, which play a role in metabolism. This forces the body to seek energy from body fat. A study by Brigham Young University published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal also found that people who exercise in the morning have less of an appetite the rest of the day, adding more reason to exercise early in the day if one wishes to lose weight.

Your body clock changes. Because your body would get used to waking up early to exercise, it can also make you feel more alert as your body clock shifts earlier. According to a study published in the February 2019 issue of the Journal of Physiology, it’s possible that exercising at 7 a.m. can affect your body clock so that your body expects you to wake up earlier and sleep earlier every day. 

You’ll feel better. Exercise also triggers the release of endorphins, which means that exercising in the morning will only put you in a better mood than when you woke up. Exercise also allows for complete focus on the body’s movements, which is why it’s often regarded as a type of meditation. Equipped with feel-good hormones and reduced stress, you’ll feel more in control every morning that you choose to exercise.

With all of these advantages to working out in the morning, you might feel tempted to force yourself to get yourself to the gym even if your body protests. Don’t do this. Exercising at an extremely low intensity level isn’t worth the energy, so save your workouts for when you’re feeling up for it. Body temperature is also often lower early in the morning, which means that you’ll have to allot more time to warming up than you usually would.

Afternoon exercise

It’s great for high-intensity workouts. Working out in the afternoon probably means that you’ve already had something to eat. While morning workouts on an empty stomach are great for weight loss, eating adds to the glucose your muscles can use while exercising. Body temperature is also highest in the late afternoon, further improving performance.

It can wake you up. It’s tempting to take a nap in the afternoon or come home early to retire before the sun even sets. Just as exercising in the morning can reset your body clock, exercising in the afternoon can help you keep awake and focused until it’s actually time to sleep.

Your body burns more calories in the afternoon. A 2018 study published in the Current Biology journal found that humans naturally burn around 10% more calories, amounting to 130 calories, in the late afternoon. They credited this to the body’s internal clock. However, the calorie burn recorded in the study occurred during natural bodily functions and not exercise.

The biggest problem with working out in the afternoon is time. You’re more likely to encounter distractions throughout the day or have errands that need to be done, which makes squeezing in a workout harder to do.

Evening exercise

It can help you sleep. Contrary to popular belief, there’s evidence to suggest that evening workouts do not interfere with one’s sleep. Researchers’ assessments of the 2013 National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America Poll found that although “morning vigorous exercisers had the most favorable sleep outcomes,” people who exercised in the evening had equal or better quality sleep.

It’ll contribute to your weight loss. A 2019 study published in the Experimental Physiology journal found that evening exercises can reduce levels of ghrelin, a hormone known to stimulate feelings of hunger. This suggests that exercising at night could aid in weight management or weight loss.

You’ll have better mornings. Without the pressure of having to wake up early, you can sleep in and not have to sacrifice precious shuteye. Just preparing one’s clothes, bags, and toiletries to head to the gym in the morning can often be quite stressful, so leaving exercise for the evening would make mornings more bearable.

The worst part about exercising at the end of the day is that other people usually have the same idea. The gym can get too crowded for a decent workout, while the streets can get too busy for a peaceful run. At the same time, distractions at work and at home are all too welcome.

The point

There are pros and cons to working out at any time of the day. What’s important is that you make the time to get those active hours in and to do it consistently. Look at your schedule and your lifestyle, then decide what time of the day works best for you. Only you can say if it’s working.

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