By A. Pawlowski
Amid hectic schedules and crazy work hours, the best time to exercise is any time you’re able to move your body and get your heart pumping. The health benefits are always present.
But if you have a choice, there is one part of the day in particular that seems to be better.
TODAY interviewed several experts on the subject and they all pretty much agreed: The morning is the best time of day to work out, for logistical, effectiveness and health reasons.
Studies back it up, too.
Women who exercised between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. had greater reductions in their belly fat and blood pressure, and they achieved stronger leg muscles, compared to those who worked out in the early evening, researchers reported last month in Frontiers in Physiology.
The exact mechanisms “remain elusive,” the authors wrote, but “morning exercise is increasingly recognized to benefit exercise adherence and weight management in overweight (and) obese individuals.”
The benefits of morning exercise
It pays to be a morning type: People who naturally woke up earlier in the day managed to squeeze in about 30 minutes more of physical activity a day for men and about 20 minutes more for women, compared to night owls, researchers in Finland found.
Then, there’s the practical side: If you exercise in the morning, you get it over with right away, there’s less chance of something interfering with your workout — like a last-minute project that forces you to stay late at work — and you have a momentum, Daniel Pink, author of “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing,” previously told TODAY. Those early sessions can help you lose weight, form a habit or start the day with a mood boost, he added.
People who exercise in the morning feel very good about accomplishing that first thing, Jack Raglin, an exercise psychologist and professor at Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington, previously told TODAY.
“You’ve gotten it out of the way and you’ve got the whole day ahead of you and you can check that off your list,” Raglin noted. Even if it’s tough to pull yourself out bed, you may be pleasantly surprised how good you feel once it’s done.
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There’s also the positive impact a morning workout can have on your body.
“When you exercise first thing in the morning, it gives your metabolic rate a boost… it allows you to burn more calories even when you are sitting at your desk doing nothing,” fitness coach Laurent Amzallag told TODAY.
Working out also releases endorphins, which help you feel great throughout the day, she added.
You may even want to consider exercising before breakfast: People who worked out on an empty stomach after fasting overnight burned double the amount of fat compared to those who exercised after eating the first meal of the day, a 2019 study found.
They were also able to better control their blood-sugar levels and adjusted easily to their before-breakfast workout sessions.
Such workouts on an empty stomach are not for everyone, including those with diabetes who are on insulin treatment and could increase their risk of hypoglycemia, Javier Gonzalez, the study co-author and a senior lecturer in the department for health at the University of Bath, told TODAY.
Healthy people who are simply worried they won’t have the energy to get their heart pumping before their morning bagel can try drinking some strong black coffee before their workout to help the exercise feel a little easier, he advised.
Not a morning person? There are benefits to evening workouts, too
If you still prefer workouts later in the day, they can have their own unique benefits, too. Evening exercise — between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. — “greatly” increased upper body muscle strength, power and endurance, and enhanced overall mood for women, according to the study published in Frontiers in Physiology. For men, the p.m. workouts lowered systolic blood pressure and fatigue, and stimulated fat oxidation compared to early morning exercise.
If you want to enjoy your workout more and find it less of a struggle, the late afternoon or early evening may be better. You’re warmed up, leading to a better performance.
“I tend to feel pretty creaky in the morning, but later in the day, I don’t feel creaky at all,” Pink said.
Plus, you can get the stresses of the working hours out and make the exercise session a ritual to end your day beneficially, Raglin noted.