Morning and evening have different benefits

Sometimes scientists go to great lengths, deliver something interesting, complex and promising, even beautiful in some way.

And yet, they seem not to answer the fundamental question that interests us all.

Life on Mars? Every month or so there’s a fascinating discovery that suggests… well, maybe.

The question “is it better to exercise in the morning or in the evening?” has also been studied extravagantly in a new study. The results were fascinating to scientists, but remain, for now, old news in their usefulness to ordinary people.

The new Atlas

A group of German scientists recently produced a monument Exercise Metabolism Atlas – “a comprehensive map of exercise-induced signaling molecules present in different tissues after exercise at different times of the day”.

Indeed, they mapped how different parts of the body – the tissues and organs, and the molecular clocks that exist in each cell – become excited and “talk” to each other after we go jogging.

These signals have “a broad impact on health, influencing sleep, memory, physical performance and metabolic homeostasis”.

An interesting finding was how “exercise can help ‘realign’ faulty circadian rhythms in specific tissues.”

For example, faulty circadian clocks have been linked to increased risks of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

There’s a lot to be done, and in the long term, this project could be very influential in developing a more nuanced understanding of how we benefit (or don’t) from working out at different times of the day.

The New York Times published a lengthy paper that called the study – which involved mice jogging on tiny treadmills – “ambitious”.

But ultimately, if mouse behaviors are true in humans, the NYT concluded, “this might suggest that morning exercise contributes more to fat loss, whereas late-day workouts might be better for blood sugar control.”

But we’ve known that for a while now

A new study from the Catholic University of Australia, published last year, supports the idea that exercising in the evening is particularly beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes.

You can read a user-friendly translation of the results on the Diabetes Australia website.

The headline: “Evening Workouts Could Boost Metabolism and Control Blood Sugar.”

Many researches support that the morning is the prime time to train. But there is growing evidence that evening exercise offers its own significant benefits.

Reported benefits of a morning workout

Perhaps the strongest argument for exercising in the morning is that it’s the best way to burn stored fat and lose more weight, especially if done on an empty stomach.

A 2019 report in TIME magazine featured Dr. Anthony Hackney, a professor in the Department of Exercise and Sport Sciences at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

Dr Hackney indicated that this weight loss occurred because “the hormonal composition of the body in the morning is configured to support this goal”.

In the early morning, he says, “you have a hormonal profile that would predispose you to better fat metabolism.”

He said people naturally have high levels of cortisol and growth hormone in the morning – both of which are involved in metabolism. This is what causes you to “draw more energy from your fat stores”.

There is also evidence that morning exercise serves to suppress your appetite.

Research from Brigham Young University (2012) found that 45 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise in the morning reduced a person’s motivation for food.

The 35 participants were shown photographs of food and their brain activity was measured post-workout. The “attentional response” to food images actually decreased after strenuous activity.

“This study provides evidence that exercise not only affects energy production, but may also affect how people respond to food cues,” the authors said.

Morning training also resulted in “an increase in total physical activity that day, regardless of body mass index.”

“We wanted to see if obesity influences food motivation, but it doesn’t,” the authors said.

Interestingly, the women in the experiment did not eat more food on exercise day to “compensate” for the extra calories they burned during exercise. In fact, they ate approximately the same amount of food the day without exercise.

A 2014 study from Appalachian State University found that 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on a treadmill at 7 a.m. led to lower blood pressure scores and improved overall sleep quality compared to the same exercise carried out at 1 p.m. or 7 p.m.

Reported Benefits of Evening Exercise

One of the problems with morning workouts is that we tend to wake up stiff and less flexible, and your resting heart rate is lower than later in the day, which means it will take you longer to warm up before starting your workout.

Also, your core temperature is lower than in the evening. As our body temperature increases, muscle function, strength, performance and endurance also increase, as found in a 2013 study comparing morning and evening performance.

According to an explainer of Health Linethe kinetics of oxygen consumption are faster in the evening, “which means that you use your resources more slowly and more efficiently than in the morning”.

It is also proven that when we exercise in the evening, it takes us 20% more to reach exhaustion. Again, this suggests that we get a higher quality workout and perform better in the evening. This may matter more to people involved in competitive sports.

As mentioned, evening exercise provides better blood sugar control in people at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Research from the Catholic University of Australia published last year found that “overweight men at risk of diabetes had better blood sugar control overnight when they exercised in the early evening rather than the morning”.

Subsequent workouts improved the metabolic health of evening exercisers more “than those who performed the same exercise earlier in the day.”

With 280 Australians developing diabetes every day, perhaps more of us need to do this brisk walk in the late afternoon.

A long-standing argument against exercising at night is that it disrupts sleep. That may not be true.

A 2019 article found that evening high-intensity workouts do not disrupt sleep. Even better, late-day exercise will eventually reduce levels of ghrelin, the hunger-stimulating hormone.

So working out in the evening can, over time, suppress your appetite when you really need it, to avoid bedtime snacks and buttery weight gain.

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