What’s the Best Time to Exercise? Let’s Talk About It

When it comes to exercise, any time you can devote is time well spent. Getting in a few good power walking sessions a week can do wonders for your heart health and blood pressure. A few minutes of daily stretching can help maintain flexibility and improve joint health. Even just two weight lifting sessions weekly can help you build and retain muscle.

The long and short of it is that some exercise is better than no exercise. Far better than that, though, is regular exercise. It’s almost impossible to overemphasize the benefits of regular exercise, which can help with weight regulation, energy levels, and mood on a day-to-day basis and can help you age gracefully, staying limber, agile, and healthy well into your older years.

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Not all of us have the benefit of a surplus of free time we can devote to exercise, though, so it’s a good idea to make the best use of the time we have and schedule in our workouts at a time when the exercise will be most beneficial. Because, per the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Physiology, as a recent study conducted by health and physiology experts from New York’s Skidmore College found, the time at which a person exercises has a direct effect on how beneficial the exercise is.

But the time of day at which a person exercises is not the only factor to consider when wondering what is the best time for a workout.

In fact, there are two major factors that indicate when the best time to exercise is for a given individual: the first is that person’s specific goals – what they hope to achieve from their regimen, e.g. The second factor depends on whether the individual is biologically male or female. 

We’ll talk about the specifics of the best times for exercise soon, but first we’ll lay out the broad strokes of the study.

A Quick Look at Study on Best Times for Exercise

young woman on the floor exercises
(Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash)

The research team led by doctors from Skidmore College recruited around 30 men and 30 woman all between the ages of 25 and 55. All study participants were already in relatively good shape and were considered active and healthy. The researchers would follow the study participants for 12 weeks as one group exercised for an hour before 8:30 in the morning, while the other group worked out between six and eight in the evening.

Both the morning and evening exercise groups completed the same types of fitness regimens, and all participants stuck to a carefully crafted dietary plan. One unsurprising but still heartening finding at the end of the three-month period was that all study participants saw an improvement in their physical health (and their mental well-being, to be sure, but this was not part of the study).

What was of particular note to the researchers was how clearly the time of day of exercise did have an impact on different people. Those findings, while preliminary and in need of more support from larger and more longitudinal studies, can provide some actionable insight for people looking to maximize the efficacy of their own workouts.

For women targeting belly fat and blood pressure, this is the best time to exercise

The study found that women who exercised in the morning saw the most marked reduction of abdominal fat and the largest drop in blood pressure. Both of these improvements are significant, as both can have long-term deleterious health effects.

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Belly fat builds up around organs like the liver and can, over time, impact proper organ function. And of course the dangers of high blood pressure, which can lead to myriad health problems and literally shorten a person’s life, are well documented.

For women looking to build muscle and elevate mood, this is the time of day to exercise

Women less concerned with belly fat and blood pressure and more interested in building muscle – especially upper body strength – will see the most benefit from exercising in the evening, the study found. For women, evening workouts also led to better mood enhancement and helped with regulation of food intake.

For men looking to improve heart health and metabolism, workouts should be at this time

Men who exercised in the evening saw the best improvement in heart health and metabolic health – which essentially refers to how effectively the body processes the nutrients introduced to it and can be directly related to ailments like diabetes, stroke, kidney issues, and obesity.

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So men looking for longer-term health benefits may want to consider exercising later in the day.

For men with other fitness goals, exercise timing is not as much of a factor

Men with other goals for their fitness routines can work out essentially any time of day and enjoy the same benefits, with sticking to a regular routine being more important than the time of day at which the workouts take place. Thus if building muscle, improving cardiovascular health, or training for a specific goal, like a marathon, exercise timing is not as much of a factor for men as it is for women.

The Best Time to Exercise Can Change From Time to Time

woman leads an exercise class
(Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash)

As you plan out your ideal exercise regimen with time of day factored in, keep in mind that the exercise timing that works best for you now may be different in the future. A woman who first wants to shed abdominal fat and then build up muscle, for example, may want to commit to several months of morning workouts and then shift to working out later in the day once her goals shift from fat loss to muscle gain.

Men, on the other hand, may want to work toward specific fitness goals by exercising at any time that works for them and then shift to later in the day workouts once their goals are met, as these later workouts can have the best effects on long-term health.

But again, the best time for exercise is any time you can devote to it, so don’t skip a workout just because it’s not technically the ideal exercise timing for your goal.


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