What Time Should You Be Exercising? New Study Shows It’s Not the Same for Everyone

Looking to reach those fitness goals? Well, the time of day you exercise might give a boost to your workout—and maybe your mood.

A new study published in Frontiers of Physiology, a leading journal publishing peer-reviewed research on the physiology of living systems, found that exercising in the morning or evening may have unique advantages, and that those advantages may be different for women and men.  Study participants included a group of thirty women and twenty-six men who were healthy, non-smoking, and “exercise-trained.” The participants were then divided into two groups, each of which was assigned an exercise time in the morning (6:00 am to 8:00 am) or evening (6:30 pm to 8:30 pm).

For 12 weeks, all participants followed a supervised program of progressive training designed by Professor Paul J. Arciero, lead author of the study and professor at the Health and Human Physiological Sciences Department at Skidmore College in New York, that included resistance, interval, stretching, and endurance (RISE) exercises, Participants also adhered to a standardized meal plan designed by a registered dietitian for the course of the study.

A number of different fitness categories were selected to assess the health and performance of both participant groups. These included muscular strength, endurance, power, body composition, blood pressure, respiratory exchange ratio, as well as mood states. To quantify the participants’ level of fitness pre-intervention (week 0) and post-intervention (week 12), researchers conducted a number of physical measurements (fat mass, abdominal mass, systolic blood pressure) and strength and aerobic tests (pushups, squats, leg press).

The results of the study showed that the time of day when RISE exercise training was performed had a significant impact on body composition and physical performance. Morning exercises for women participants reduced abdominal fat and blood pressure, while evening exercise enhanced muscular performance. Men did not realize the same benefits as women, seeing only an increased fat oxidation and reduced systolic blood pressure during evening workouts; however, unlike women, men did demonstrate significant mood improvement, including reduced tension, depression, anger, and fatigue regardless of the time of their workout.

Given the results of the study, it’s important to take time of day into consideration when setting up a fitness plan. The Healthy Monday Walk Around the Clock series offers different ways to incorporate more walking throughout the day—morning, noon, or night, and is a perfect way to ease yourself into a low-intensity workout routine. But as the study shows, you can also use physical activity as a way to feel better. The Move It for Your Mood series includes practices oriented towards staying calm, positive, and stress-free. Together, these resources can help make staying physically active simple and enjoyable for those just starting an exercise routine.