The best time to exercise

When is the best time to work out – first thing in the morning or after work? Or should you try to squeeze in a session at lunchtime? We help you a fitness dilemma.
Published 11 April 2016

When is the best time to exercise?

AM versus PM

Some people love working out first thing in the morning, while others think evening exercise is better. Well, good news – the most important thing is doing it – the hour of the day you do it is less of an issue. “When it comes to exercise, something is always better than nothing, and more is better than less,” says exercise physiologist Andrew Schwartz. That said, there are some advantages to exercising at certain times of the day. Whether you choose to exercise in the morning or the evening is largely a personal decision – you may have the energy to burn first thing or prefer to leave it until after work to sweat out the day’s stresses. So when’s best for you? Read on for some pointers.

Benefits of morning exercise

Working out at the crack of dawn has some great health advantages. Here, we share a few tips on how to make the most of your exercise routine if you’re a morning person. And if you’re not, there are easy ways to convince yourself to get out of bed early and get active.

There are plenty of pros to being an early-bird exerciser. Getting out of bed and straight into your workout gear is ideal if you can manage it. For one thing, you’ve done your exercise for the day. “Another advantage of exercising in the morning is that it helps to promote an increased metabolic rate, so essentially you’re burning more energy while you rest, when you’re not exercising, throughout the day,” says exercise physiologist Zac Jefcoate. If you want to reap the benefits of morning exercise but struggle to get out of bed, Jefcoate suggests hitting the sack 30 to 45 minutes earlier, putting your workout clothes next to your bed and setting the alarm for 10 minutes before you need to get up to allow for one hit of the snooze button.

Alternatively, sign up for a morning boot camp or enlist a workout buddy. “Training with someone else really helps. Also, once you start, it gets easier and easier,” says Schwartz.

So what kinds of workouts are best for the morning? “Any exercise that gets you moving and that you enjoy,” says Jefcoate. “If you find waking up early a chore, you may enjoy moderate-paced walking.” And try to get outside for at least 30 minutes if you can while it’s light – research by Northwestern University, US, found people who get out in the morning light for this long have significantly lower BMIs than those who head outside afternoon. If you’re naturally a morning person, go for more intensive exercise. “Jogging, boxing or circuit training are great ways to wake up and help your body tackle a long day,” says Jefcoate. “A harder exercise program will also release endorphins and feel-good hormones to power your mind and body through the day.”

Not sure whether to eat something before a morning training session? The jury is still out on whether exercising before breakfast can work for weight loss. But while experts and research are divided, it pays to listen to your body. “Some people lack energy and can feel nauseous, so if you don’t feel good ‘running on empty’, have something small, such as half a banana, before you head out,” says Schwartz.

Working out at midday

Work up a sweat in your lunch hour and you won’t just boost your health and fitness, you might work better, too. UK research found that employees who exercised at lunchtime reported feeling significantly happier and more productive in the afternoons. “Circuit training is generally a great way to boost metabolism and burn fat” says Jefcoate. He suggests a four-minute warm-up on the cross trainer, or running outside, then doing three to five sets of squats, lunges and push-ups (12 reps of each), and holding the plank or side plank for 30 seconds.

Benefits of an evening workout

Exercising after work has great advantages, too. For one, the more time you spend working out in the evening the less time you’ll be on the couch watching TV and wondering what you can eat next. Here’s how to make your end-of-day workouts most effective.

If your mornings are just too cramped to fit in your fitness training, later workouts might suit you better. “Some people tend to function better in the afternoon or evening as they feel less pressured, have more coordination and are more alert,” says Jefcoate.

Post-work exercise can also pep you up and give you more energy for the evening ahead. Research on a group of healthy men by the University of Chicago also suggested evening exercise can regulate metabolism. If you’ve been stuck at a desk all day, this is your chance to stretch out your body. “Office workers often need to exercise harder to achieve weight loss because they’re sedentary all day,” says Jefcoate. “And high-intensity interval training is important.” High-intensity interval training (HIIT) involves short, intense periods of exercise – such as sprinting – alternated with recovery periods. Try Tabata training, where you go hard for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeat eight times. That’s less than three minutes of exercise in total. And you can do it with pretty much any kind of exercise – running, cycling, skipping or going on gym machines.

Another way to help your body after a day of sitting down is Pilates – it works your core and other underused muscles that support your back. If you find that your good intentions to exercise after work tend to come unstuck, try signing up for a team sport. Netball, football and basketball all tick the high-intensity training box and, just like a morning-walk buddy system, you’re less likely to skip it because others are depending on you to show up.

Remember, though, it’s important your evening workouts aren’t scheduled too late in the day. “Avoid vigorous exercise at least two hours before bed, as this can disrupt sleep cycles, cortisol production and sleep hormones,” says Jefcoate.