Exercise at any time of the day is better than none. There is no disputing that. But a new study adds another layer to the fascinating way our bodies react to our routines. The study, published in Nature Communications (Feb. 2023), showed that people who worked out in the mid-afternoon had a lower risk of dying, both in general and from heart disease, compared to evening and morning exercisers.
The study evaluated 92,000 people in the United Kingdom who were given accelerometers that measured when and how intensely they worked out over a seven-day period. After several years, mortality records were evaluated, which revealed the association between physical fitness routines and their participant’s risk (or cause) of death. To define the time of day for the purpose of the study, mid-afternoon was from 11a-5p, evening was from 5p-midnight, and morning was from 5a-11a.
This study adds to the information already available about the benefits of exercising at different times of the day. A significant amount of information points to the morning being the ideal time. Some benefits of morning exercise include that it:
- Encourages additional physical activity: A study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise that included participants of normal and obese body weights (according to BMI) found that participants that exercised in the morning took on more physical activity throughout the day than those who didn’t exercise in the morning.
- Increases metabolism: Exercise increases your metabolism, keeping it running more efficiently throughout the day as you consume calories as opposed to overnight when there are less calories to burn.
- Changes how you perceive food throughout the day: Studies have evaluated how women responded to food after working out in the morning. Participants that walked briskly for 45 minutes were shown to be less distracted by food images compared to when they didn’t exercise.
- Helps you sleep better: Exercise increases your body temperature and heart rate. Part of the sleep cycle is your body cooling down- exercising in the evening may hinder your body’s natural transition into the sleep cycle. If you opt for a sweat session in the evening, aim to be done no later than 1.5 hours before sleep to allow your body to transition.
- Burn more fat: Some studies show evidence that exercising on an empty stomach can burn up to 20% more body fat than exercising after you’ve started consuming foods. Researchers have also found that the 24-hour fat burn was higher with morning exercise on an empty stomach. If you find that you need a little bit of a boost before you work out don’t avoid it. But, do reach for a healthy source of energy like bananas, oats, fruit and Greek yogurt, or nuts.
- It’ll support a productive day: A 2019 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that morning exercise improves attention, visual learning, and decision-making. Participants were found to have overall better cognition throughout the day.
But despite all the apparent benefits of morning exercise, this new study found evidence that those that exercised midday into the afternoon, as well as those that varied their exercise times showed substantially decreased all-cause and CVD (cardiovascular disease) mortality risks compared to those who exercised in the morning. The lowered risk for heart disease death from afternoon workouts was particularly prominent among men, the elderly, less active individuals, and people with pre-existing heart disease.
Most sources explain that there are layers of potential reasons behind the benefits gained from exercising at different times. Sleep, diet, stress levels, as well as other lifestyle habits can all play a role in an individual’s risk for all-cause mortality and CVD.
Most important though, was that the study underscored that any exercise was better than no exercise. Moderate to intense physical activity at any time of the day was linked to a lower risk of dying from heart disease and cancer, and the lower risk of dying from cancer remained consistent among all exercise times.
The bottom line? Exercise benefits your body- whether it’s done in the morning, noon, or night.