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February 24, 2023

Any exercise is beneficial, but afternoon workouts may be best, study finds

People who are physically active between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. are the least likely to die an early death, researchers found

Fitness Exercise
Afternoon exercise Daniel Reche/Pixabay

One large-scale study found that people who worked out between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. were less likely to die early from heart disease and other conditions (excluding cancer).

Research is clear that regular exercise is more beneficial to the body than a sedentary lifestyle. But is there an optimum time to work out?

The answer to that question is much less clear, and it may depend on a what a person wants to accomplish.

Exercise offers a range of health benefits, from weight management to increased strength and endurance to improved heart health. It also can reduce the risk of early death and protect against conditions like type 2 diabetes and obesity. 

The most recent research suggests that the best time to exercise is between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. The study of 90,000 people – one of the largest to date – found that people who were physically active between that window were less likely to die early from heart disease and other causes (excluding cancer) than people who exercised earlier or later in the day. 

But no matter when people exercised, the researchers found that working out was more beneficial than physical inactivity. And men and seniors particularly appeared to benefit from afternoon physical activity. 

Yet, previous research has touted the morning or evening as the optimal time to exercise, though many of these studies were based on small study populations or animal models, the Washington Post reported. That makes it difficult to extrapolate their findings to the general population. 

A recent animal study, which had mice exercise on tiny treadmills, found that morning exercise is the best time to burn fat. When the mice exercised after first waking up, their fat tissues showed signs of increased metabolism. Just a single morning workout set up conditions in the mice to make fat burning easier over time.

Another study found that women who exercised between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. had greater reductions in belly fat and blood pressure. They also had stronger muscles compared to women who worked out in the early evening. For men, however, evening workouts were most effective at lowering blood pressure and stimulating fat oxidation.

"Morning exercise is increasingly recognized to benefit exercise adherence and weight management in overweight (and) obese individuals," the authors wrote.

But other studies have found that evening exercise — between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. — is the optimum time for maximizing workout performance. Some experts say this may be due to a better ability to concentrate, more fuel reserves from eating during the day and more time to warm up.

Another study, which looked at men at high risk for type 2 diabetes, found that those who did their workouts in the evening improved their metabolic health far more than those who performed the same workouts earlier in the day.

Still, another study suggests people should time their workouts to their circadian rhythms for optimal improvements in coordination, energy metabolism and sleep. That means late risers should exercise later in the day instead of forcing themselves to get out of bed for early workouts. 

It can all be a little confusing. But the studies all point to the importance of consistent exercise. So remember, that any exercise is beneficial no matter when it can be squeezed into the day.

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