The optimal time of day to exercise can be different for men and women

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According to a small study, women and men may react differently to exercise depending on the time of day. The Good Brigade/Getty Images
  • In a small study, researchers looked at how the bodies of men and women responded to exercise at different times of the day—morning and evening.
  • The study followed 30 women and 26 men between the ages of 25 and 55 who were considered “highly active” individuals with a proven history of regular physical activity — 27 women and 20 men eventually completed the study.
  • The results showed that women burned more fat and improved their blood pressure readings by exercising in the morning compared to men who burned more fat at night.
  • Several experts not involved in the research study noted that sleep and hormone levels may play important roles in physical performance.

Men and women have different optimal training times during the day a new study published in Frontiers in Physiology.

Researchers say women burn more fat in the morning hours while men burn more fat at night. According to the study, women who want to improve their blood pressure also achieve better results if they exercise in the morning.

Researchers from Skidmore College in New York, Arizona State University and California State University, Chico, studied 30 men and 26 women between the ages of 25 and 55 who were defined as “highly active” (more than 30 minutes of structured physical activity over 4 days during the day). week for more than 3 years).

Over 12 weeks, the researchers analyzed the effects of a varied exercise program — consisting of stretching, resistance exercise, interval sprints, and endurance training — with the same relative exercise volume.

Participants completed one of four different exercise routines one day per week for a total of four workouts per week.

One group exercised for one hour between 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m., while the other group followed the same exercise routines but between 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m

Researchers found that in women, exercising in the morning reduced abdominal fat and blood pressure, while exercising in the evening improved muscle performance.

In the male cohort, evening exercise increased fat oxidation and reduced systolic blood pressure and fatigue.

The study concluded that the time of day that subjects exercised “may be important in optimizing individual exercise-induced health and performance outcomes in physically active individuals, and may be independent of macronutrient intake.”

“Morning exercise in women improves overall and abdominal fat loss, lowers blood pressure, and increases lower-body muscle strength,” the study said. “Evening exercise significantly increases upper body muscular strength, strength and endurance and improves overall mood.”

In men, strength increased after both morning and evening exercise, but evening exercise produced additional benefits with “lower systolic blood pressure and fatigue and stimulates fat oxidation compared to early morning exercise.”

Megan Johnson McCullough is a National Academy of Sports Medicine Instructor, professional bodybuilder and owner of Every BODY’s Fit in Oceanside, CA.

McCullough told Healthline that both sleep and hormones play important roles in optimal exercise times.

“Women’s and men’s sleep patterns are different, which contributes to the different outcomes that exercise can produce between the sexes,” McCullough said. “There may be evidence that there is an optimal choice for women and men to exercise depending on the time of day and the type of exercise performed, cardio or strength training. The differences in sleep cycles correlate with the differences in exercise performance.”

McCullough told Healthline that hormone production and sleep are linked. Women spend more time in deep sleep and less time in the lightest phase of sleep compared to men.

“As a result, it has been suggested that women are more alert and awake than men in the morning,” McCullough said. “This notion may relate to women burning more fat during morning workouts, in part due to their ability to perform better when the body is more alert in the morning hours. Men may be more alert and the body is better prepared for exercise in the evening as the body needs to be woken up during the day and later in the day or evening is more awake to exercise.

“Research has also shown that cortisol levels are highest in the morning, so there may be a link to morning fat burning when there is more stress-related fat. Men could take advantage of this and do cardio in the morning to literally “burn off” their stress. This would also lower blood pressure if both sexes did cardio in the morning,” McCullough told Healthline. “Higher cortisol levels inhibit muscle growth, so night-time strength training may be more beneficial.” The opposite would be true for women who could lift in the morning when testosterone levels are higher (for them) and there is the strength to lift more weight.”

DJ Mazzonia board-certified strength and conditioning specialist who also serves as a medical assessor at Illuminate Labs, told Healthline that many other factors contribute to the best time to exercise.

“What time of day someone performs best in the gym is too individual an answer to make recommendations by gender,” Mazzoni said. “People of both sexes prefer to exercise at different times throughout the day.”

“I’ve found that people do best in the gym when they go at a time that best fits their schedule and is fun,” Mazzoni told Healthline. “Some people prefer to exercise after a long day at work to relieve stress, while others prefer to exercise first thing in the morning. Exercising when you really want to exercise is likely to lead to improved performance and results compared to exercising on a set schedule, believing it to be a healthier option.

“I generally recommend avoiding exercising within 3 hours of sleeping, as it can disrupt sleep,” Mazzoni said. “People prefer morning cardio because they aren’t ‘weighted down’ by food. Many people prefer to lift weights after a meal (and after digestion) because it improves strength and performance.”

Jake Dickson is a certified personal trainer and editor of the strength training website BarBend. He said it’s unclear why men and women reacted so differently to the timing of the exercise.

“However, nighttime exercise is good for men who want to improve their cardiovascular and metabolic health, as well as their emotional well-being. Improving metabolic health reduces the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke,” Dickson explained.

Kent Probsta personal trainer, exercise therapist, and bodybuilder, told Healthline the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines for exercise testing and prescriptions (11th edition, 2022) are the same for men and women.

“There isn’t enough published scientific evidence to make exercise testing and prescribing recommendations gender specific,” Probst told Healthline.

But Probst said the time of day is actually important for anyone who exercises.

“[With] weight training, jOur body temperature peaks between 4:00pm and 6:00pm and this is believed to be why suppleness, speed and power peak during this period. Therefore, the optimal time for strength training is 4-6 p.m. to start maximizing strength and muscle.”

“[For] Cardiovascular exercise, muscular endurance, and endurance peak in the early to mid-morning, which means this is the best time for cardiovascular exercise,” Probst said. “[For] sport-specific exercise, since mental acuity peaks around the middle of the day, sport-specific exercise should be done in that time frame.”

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