Best time of day to exercise if weight loss is your goal

Men and women doing exercise. (Getty Images)
What time of day do you exercise? (Getty Images)

While of course exercise has great benefits whenever you choose to do it, can the time of day you go for affect your goals differently?

The answer seems to be yes. For example, women who want to lose weight should exercise in the morning, while those who want to build muscle should work out in the evening, according to one US study.

It also unearthed the best time of day to exercise may be different for men and women – women burned more body fat by doing it in the morning, while men saw more benefits from evening exercise.

While the exact reasons for the findings were unclear, authors from the study suggested it could be partly due to differences in hormones, biological clocks and circadian rhythms (sleep-wake cycles).

The researchers also said women may burn more body fat in the morning because they are more likely to have excess belly fat. Meanwhile, other research suggests that morning exercise can reduce motivation for food, challenging the assumption that you 'work up an appetite'.

Read more: How to start working out: A beginner's guide to getting fit for the first time

An old female sportsperson with black plastic water bottle doing sport outside in the countryside.
Exercising in the morning can help women lose belly fat. (Getty Images)

It should be noted that all participants who took part in and stuck to the US study improved their overall health and performance during the trial, regardless of when they exercised.

"The best time for exercise is the best time you can do it and fit it into your schedule," Dr Paul Arciero, lead study author and professor of health and human physiological sciences at Skidmore College, New York state, told the BBC at the time.

However, he suggested there is "something else going on", which may mean the ideal time of day to exercise varies depending on what you want to achieve, and differs for men and women.

Women wanting to reduce fat around their middle and reduce blood pressure should aim to exercise in the morning, Dr Arciero explained in more detail. Losing tummy fat is important because it can surround the body's internal organs, like the liver, which can be dangerous.

Read more: 10 expert-approved weight loss tips good for your body and mind

However, for women wanting to improve muscle strength in their upper body, as well as their overall mood and food intake, they should exercise in the evening, he added.

While the men in the trial were less affected by the time they worked out, with their strength improving in both mornings and evenings, the latter was found to be "ideal for men interested in improving heart and metabolic health, as well as emotional wellbeing".

Losing weight, exercising regularly, eating a healthy and balanced diet, stopping smoking and cutting down on alcohol can all help prevent or reverse 'metabolic syndrome'.

This is the medical term for a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension) and obesity, which can put you at greater risk of getting coronary heart disease, stroke and other conditions that affect the blood vessels, according to the NHS.

Man exercising.
Exercising in the evening can help men improve their metabolic and heart health. (Getty Images)

In the study, some 30 women and 26 men – all nonsmokers, healthy and between 25-55 years old – underwent a supervised programme of exercise for 12 weeks. This included a mix of stretching, sprint, resistance and endurance training.

They were assigned either early morning sessions (between 6.30-8.30am) or evening sessions (6-8pm), completing a different routine each day, for four days a week, all of which lasted less than an hour except for endurance, which was performed for an hour or longer.

Men and women in both groups were provided with meal plans designed by dieticians.

Researchers tested everyone's blood pressure and body fat throughout the study, along with their flexibility, strength and aerobic power, observing any changes.

Read more: The NHS' 12-week weight loss plan explained

Watch: Five tips for getting back into exercise

The study – published in Frontiers in Physiology – tracked people with a healthy weight, but researchers also say the programme could be beneficial on people who are overweight or obese. "They have more to benefit", said Dr Arciero.

While the research was relatively small, as most studies in this field have so so far been based on just men, the findings are still significant – though more needs to be done to understand the differences between the sexes better.