We all know the value of daily exercise. But does it make a difference when you work out? If you are trying to fit at least some exercise into your busy schedule, is it better to exercise first thing in the morning or at night?
A new study sheds some light on the question.
A recent small study seems to verify previous research that indicates there is some additional benefit for women to exercise in the morning, but for men and women overall the were greater benefits to waiting till the evening to exercise.
The researchers from Skidmore University collected data from 27 women and 20 men who were already highly active with a regular exercise regimen. Participants were followed over 12 weeks. They did one of four different exercise routines – stretching, resistance training, interval sprints, or endurance training –four times a week for one hour each time. One group did the routine between 6:30 and 8:30 a.m., and the other group between 6 and 8 p.m.
For the group who exercised in the morning:
- Women had a 7% greater loss of belly fat, a larger reduction in blood pressure, and greater leg strength
For the group who exercised in the evening:
- Women had a greater increase in upper body strength, power and endurance, and mood improvement.
- Men had improved heart health, metabolic health, and emotional well-being.
- Men also had a greater weight loss and reduction in blood pressure.
What can account for these differences, and why was there only an advantage for women to exercise in the waking hours?
One possible explanation is that women tend to spend longer in the deep sleep stage and therefore tend to be more alert and ready to exercise earlier in the morning. But there are plenty of men who prefer to exercise in the morning as well. This brings us to one of the biggest myths about sleep and exercise; that working out too late in the evening or close to bedtime will lead to reduced sleep quality. Again, it depends. Exercising late in the day might not affect those self-described night owls. And most importantly, a meta-analysis identified 29 studies which demonstrated that exercise improved sleep quality or duration.
This albeit small study does add to the existing body of evidence that metabolic benefits – i.e., burning glucose — are higher for men who exercise in the evening. For women whose main goal is to burn fat, this study did demonstrate a clear benefit to a morning workout.
But, the bottom line is that any exercise is good for you. If doing it in the morning vs. the evening or vice versa fits better into your schedule or makes you “feel” better or more inclined to do it at that time of day – go for it!