What time of day do you exercise? Some people lace up their exercise shoes before the sun rises. Others launch into a workout around lunchtime or after work. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. Early morning exercisers have the benefit of getting their workout out of the way and can savor the satisfaction of checking the daily workout off their to-do list. Plus, morning workouts provide an energy burst we sometimes need first thing in the morning. Who couldn’t use a power boost? Some studies show that working out in the morning makes us more productive and may even enhance brain function.
Yet, evening workouts have their proponents too. You come home from work tired and a little frustrated after a long day. Getting your heart rate up or doing some deep squats is the perfect way to relieve stress and vanquish frustrations and worries from your mind. Plus, core body temperature is higher in the evening. Warm muscles are also more flexible. So, you can perform better when you strength train and have a lower risk of injury.
But what if you’re trying to lose weight? Currently, you might do moderate-intensity exercise before breakfast after an overnight fast to tap into body fat stores. But if you’re doing a high-intensity workout, you may push yourself a little harder and burn more calories if you eat beforehand. It depends on the type of workout you’re doing and how hard you’ll be exercise. However, a recent study looked at how the time of day and exercise impacts weight control. Do morning exercisers have an advantage over folks who exercise later in the day?
In the study published in the journal Obesity, researchers followed the exercise habits of 375 adults who exercised and were successful at maintaining weight loss longer term. Smart! Studies show that exercise is a key part of maintaining weight loss after you lose a significant amount of weight. Although the majority of the participants worked out before noon, the biggest factor linked with maintaining a lower body weight was consistency. In other words, exercising around the same time every day. Those who exercised at a predetermined time each day engaged in higher levels of physical activity and were better able to avoid weight regain.
Consistency is King
These results aren’t surprising. Sometimes, we get caught up in the details of when and how to exercise, but if you don’t get the consistency part right, you still may not get the results you want. We’re more likely to follow through on a new behavioral change when it becomes an automatic behavior. The more you repeat a behavior, the more it’s reinforced in your brain and the faster it becomes a habit. In fact, repetition is key to habit formation. You know you’re successful when you automatically carry out a behavior without thinking about it. We talk about the importance of motivation for maintaining an exercise habit but consistency matters too! However, it takes at least 21 days to build a habit. Many people quit before that time! But once you understand that it takes this long, it’s easier to keep going until you form an exercise habit.
Exercising in the Morning Still Has Advantages
In the study, the majority of the participants who maintained their weight worked out in the morning, although the time of day was less important than being consistent. However, exercising first thing in the morning may give you an edge in terms of consistency. You might have good intentions and plan on exercising after a tough day at work, but if you’re tired or have family matters to attend to, “life” may get in the way. You have fewer interferences and distractions if you exercise as soon as you wake up. Plus, there’s satisfaction in conquering a goal so early! Set visual cues for yourself. Keep your exercise shoes and clothing by the bed so you can toss them on as soon as you wake up and get down to business.
Keep the Habit Going!
The more times you repeat a habit, the more you integrate it into your life and it becomes a permanent action. Unfortunately, circumstances sometimes arise that make it impossible to exercise for a period of time. Being forced to the sidelines for a few days is a motivation killer for some people and that can break the cycle of consistency. The key is to hop back on track as soon as you can. In the interim, use any time that is available to do a brief workout, even if it’s only five minutes here and there. Don’t get into a sedentary mindset. Do what you can when you can!
Nutrition Matters Too
Don’t focus so much on exercise that you forget about the importance of nutrition for weight control and for avoiding weight regain. Your food choices matter as much as how active you are and when you exercise. In fact, most research shows that what you eat is most important. Studies show that people who exercise often overestimate how many calories they burn during a workout and feel entitled to eat more or splurge on a sugary treat after a tough workout. Upgrade the quality of what you eat and eat more mindfully to shed those extra pounds.
The Bottom Line
What time of day you exercise isn’t critical to your weight loss success. It’s more important to choose a time and keep it as consistent as possible. Studies suggest that morning workouts might have a slight edge in helping with weight control, partially because you’re less likely to find a reason not to do it if you work out in the morning. However, you will probably perform better if you strength train or do high-intensity exercise later in the day when your muscles are warm and flexible. Choose what works for you! And don’t forget about the importance of good nutrition, stress management, and sleep either.
Obesity. “Relationship of Consistency in Timing of Exercise Performance and Exercise Levels Among Successful Weight Loss Maintainers” July 3, 2019.
ScienceDaily.com. “A short bout of exercise enhances brain function”