I really wanted to write a blog post on this topic as I am asked this question so often. Unfortunately, it comes under the dreaded should prefix alongside “what should I eat for breakfast” and “what exercise should I be doing?”. The problem is that I am 100% in the “when you want to and when it suits you” camp. I think you should exercise when it suits you and when you have the most energy (not when Gwyneth Paltrow is telling you to). If you are forcing yourself to do exercise whilst your body is crying out for you to rest, you’re probably not going to stick with it long-term. So, please see below the pro’s of exercising in the morning and evening, but please remember that overall you should exercise when it suits you, and your schedule, no-one else’s.
Studies have shown that choosing to exercise in the morning can have various health benefits including higher activity levels for the rest of the day, lower blood pressure, and longer, deeper sleeping patterns.
In fact, some people find that exercising early in the morning reduces the risk of other commitments getting in the way (such as work drinks). Plus, it’s unlikely you have other things to do at 6am. You will have just awoken from (hopefully) a good night’s sleep, and therefore should have good energy levels.
Also, exercise boosts the metabolism so for those of you who feel sluggish in the morning this may help. Exercise has also been shown to help improve your mood (1) which can only be a good thing when facing a day at work.
Things to consider if you work out in the morning:
Unless you are a chronic sleep-walker you will have just woken from a night of very little movement. Our bodies can be cold and stiff in the mornings so it is even more important that you complete a more comprehensive warm up prior to exercising to ward off potential injuries, as without a warm up of this sort injuries are a bigger risk at this time of the day.
It can also be harder to motivate yourself to get out of bed in the morning to exercise. To counteract this some people find it easier to wait until their lunch break or evening if they are not morning people (much like my fiancée).
Finally, if you are about to start a long and/or strenuous day be careful you are not unnecessarily adding extra to it – instead, use your lunch break or weekends for a relaxing walk/cycle or Yoga class. It’s not worth putting extra pressure on your immune system.
After a long or stressful day at work a run along the river or sweaty spin session can be great for shaking off the day’s worries and can help set you up for a relaxing evening at home. Exercising at this time of day can be a great way to literally let off some steam.
Due to the fact that across the day we are fuelling our bodies and warming our muscles up many people find that they have more energy, are more flexible, or can train harder in the evening. It is also thought that our pain tolerance increases as the day goes on and that our energy levels peak between 2-6pm. If you can get out of work on time that spike in energy could really help.
Finally, if you want to exercise with friends or make the most of a relaxing shower post-workout you may well have more chance in the evening – very few people accept my invite of a 6am Yoga class but an evening one followed by a glass of wine often seems to attract more attention J
Things to consider if you work out in the evening:
It can be easy to come up with a million excuses to miss that evening workout when you’ve had all day at work to think about it. You know it’ll make you feel better but it’s not always tempting when the sofa or bar calls.
Working out too late in the evening can also play havoc with our natural wind-down mechanisms and affect our sleep patterns (2). Try to ensure an adequate gap between your workout and a healthy bedtime.
If you have a stressful job that is likely to leave you with increased cortisol levels be careful that you aren’t increasing them further by finishing your day with a cortisol elevating workout such as HIIT (3). Maybe choose a restorative workout like Pilates or Yoga instead and save the HIIT for weekends or shorter days.
Remember that we are exercising to improve our health and happiness and if your workout schedule is having a negative effect on either of these try to reassess your schedule. It can be helpful to keep a workout diary to help you establish what times of the day you have more energy and how much enjoyment you got from your workouts. Overall put your happiness first!
- Wipfli1 et al. An examination of serotonin and psychological variables in the relationship between exercise and mental health. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. Volume 21, Issue 3, pages 474–481, June 2011.
- Vuori I, Urponen H, Hasan J, Partinen M. Epidemiology of exercise effects on sleep. Acta Physiol Scand Suppl. 1988;574 3-7. PMID: 3245463.