What’s the Best Time to Exercise?

Find out if hitting the gym in the morning, afternoon or evening really matters.

| June 28th, 2012

Whether you can’t start the day without your morning run or you prefer to squeeze in your sweat sessions at the gym after a stressful workday, it’s a given that exercising at any point in the day is always better than being a couch potato. But does it really make a difference whether you work out in the morning or the evening? Turns out, it might, depending on your goals.

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A recent study at Appalachian State University found that morning workouts are best if you want a better night’s sleep (and who doesn’t want that?). The researchers tracked the sleep patterns of people ages 40 to 60 who walked on a treadmill for 30 minutes, three times a week. Participants worked out at three different times: 7 a.m., 1 p.m. or 7 p.m. Turns out, those who hit the treadmill at 7 a.m. slept longer and had deeper sleep cycles than those who exercised at other points in the day. In fact, the morning crowd spent up to 75 percent more time in the reparative “deep sleep” stage at night.

As a bonus, early birds also experienced a 10 percent reduction in blood pressure during the day and a 25 percent dip at night.

The sleep changes that occur with morning exercise can alter our bodies mentally and physically, according to Scott Collier, Ph.D., the lead author of the study and an assistant professor in the department of health, leisure and exercise science at Appalachian State University.

“The better you sleep, the better it is for your body,” explains Dr. Collier. “It increases your cardio health, decreases stress and anxiety, helps you maintain your weight and lowers your blood pressure. Plus, the more time spent in deep sleep, the more time your body has to repair itself.”

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Adds Collier: “If we can find the best time to exercise and get good sleep, we can we prevent the likelihood of people going from a pre-hypertension to hypertension state.”

While morning exercisers can reap these rewards, along with a greater likelihood of sticking to their workouts, afternoon exercise comes with its own physical and psychological benefits, too.

One small study found that afternoon exercise boosts workout performance. Researchers analyzed a group of cyclists who worked out at 6 a.m. or 6 p.m. and found that the evening exercises had higher power outputs. They theorized that the more complex the movements required to perform the exercise are, the more that the time of day can impact the performance. In other words, you may perform better in the afternoon if you’re swimming, running or biking versus something simple like walking.

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