Dawn breaks, but does that mean you should break into a sweat? The morning vs. evening workout debate has long simmered, with advocates on each side professing that their way of working out is better than the other.
People generally fall into one of the two camps—those who like to “get it out of the way” in the morning, so they can feel better about themselves throughout the day as the endorphins trickle through, or those who prefer an evening workout to wash away hours of slouching in front of a screen. But is sunrise better than sunset when it comes to getting sweaty? Or do those fitness night owls have it right when pumping iron as dusk settles? We asked the experts to find out.
Benefits of a morning workout
There’s something to be said for starting your day on the front foot. Contrary to how you feel after switching your fourth alarm off, you’re at your most primed in the morning, thanks to your body’s built-in oscillations, called the circadian rhythm. “Circadian rhythm research offers some intriguing insights,” says Daniel Glazer, clinical psychologist and co-founder of US Therapy Rooms. “In the morning, body temperature and heart rate rise naturally to help us feel alert and energized. Exercising [at this time] can boost feel-good endorphins and kickstart focus for the day ahead. Therefore an early workout for clients struggling with mood or motivation issues could reap the most benefits.”
Exercise naturally heightens your levels of endorphins, the so-called “feel good” hormones, giving your body some welcomed pep for the day ahead. A morning workout can also help control stress by regulating the release of cortisol. “Exercise early in the day has been shown to lower cortisol levels throughout the remainder of the day,” says Alanna Kate Derrick, certified personal trainer and senior contributor at Gold BJJ. “By stimulating the body with movement upon waking, we establish healthy cortisol rhythms and improve our ability to manage stress.”
A morning workout can also make it easier to establish a routine. Cortisol has been found to play a role in habit formation, meaning that getting up and at ‘em when these levels are naturally higher could make it easier to stick to a proper fitness regimen and even reset your body for a healthier night’s sleep. “For those looking to regulate a sleep schedule, exercising in the morning—especially when coupled with exposure to natural light—can help to establish a natural circadian rhythm,” says Eloise Skinner, London-based psychotherapist and group fitness instructor, “which is great for anyone looking to reset after traveling, or deal with jet lag.”
Benefits of an evening workout
As endorphins can help you feel good throughout the day, they’re also a handy way to help you sleep at night. “Working out after a long day provides valuable stress relief by enhancing relaxation,” says Derrick. “The physical activity serves as a healthy outlet to unwind worrying thoughts and relaxing tight muscles.”