Science May Have Found the Best Time of Day to Work Out

To boost your brain's learning and memory functions, this neuroscientist says there's one particular time of day when you should hit the gym.

When it comes to personal fitness, getting an expert-approved routine down can be tricky. How often (and for how long) should you exercise? What should you eat before and after a workout? Do you need to lift weights? Any type of exercise routine you establish is great but if you’re looking to maximize your gains when you sweat, you may want to pay attention to the time of day you exercise, too.

Wendy Suzuki, PhD, author of Healthy Brain, Happy Life and a professor at the Center for Neural Science at New York University in New York, says that morning exercise may have brain-boosting powers. This is because neurotransmitters and growth factors are highest in the a.m., just in time to prime your brain for learning and memory throughout the day, according to her book.  And the perks don’t stop there. Check out even more potential benefits of a morning workout.

Woman in a pink tank top stretching outdoors.GP Studio/Shutterstock

Science appears to back up what Suzuki says. One recent study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that older adults who exercised in the morning had better brain function, including decision making and heightened short-term memory. Researchers who published findings in the journal Healthy Psychology revealed that planning to pursue a healthy habit—like working out—in the morning is more likely to stick than one performed in the evening. The news for activity early in the day keeps getting better: A third study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that morning workouts suppressed appetite and lead to greater weight loss.

If “rise-and-shine” is not in your vocabulary, here’s how to trick yourself into becoming a morning person. Of course, if your schedule prevents you from hitting the gym until the end of the day, don’t sweat it. The most important thing is consistency. So go when you can. Can’t make it to the gym by the break of dawn? Try these sneaky ways to fit in your daily workout.

Sources
  • Wendy Suzuki, PhD, author of Healthy Brain, Happy Life and professor at the Center for Neural Science at New York University.
  • British Journal of Sports Medicine: "Distinct effects of acute exercise and breaks in sitting on working memory and executive function in older adults: a three-arm, randomised cross-over trial to evaluate the effects of exercise with and without breaks in sitting on cognition."
  • Health Psychology: "Effects of circadian cortisol on the development of a health habit." 
  • Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: "Neural response to pictures of food after exercise in normal-weight and obese women."