"Which is better, exercising in the morning or the evening?"
My common response to this question has always been, "Whenever you will do it," because the first step to seeing positive results of exercise - whether in the morning or evening - is actually exercising.
I have also noticed that exercising in the morning, for many, looks great 'on paper'. I will get up early, get my workout finished, shower, get ready for work, and enjoy the reminder for the rest of the day that I have already exercised.
Maybe this plan works well for the "morning person". For everyone else, however, when the early morning alarm clock (or phone) sings its hated tune, exercising does not sound as appealing. Yet, many love exercising in the evenings, perhaps for this exact reason.
So, what if people exercised according to their diurnal preference (morningness or eveningness)? A recent study examined this exact question.1
121 university faculty and students completed a measure of morningness-eveningness, with a lower score representing extreme eveningness and a higher score representing extreme morningness.
I have included this scale at the end, if you want to find out your own diurnal preference.
They were then given a FitBit to track their exercise over the next 4 weeks, and found...
"An earlier (as compared to later) time-of-exercise increased exercise frequency for more morning-oriented individuals while decreasing exercise frequency for evening-oriented individuals. Notably, all diurnal preferences exercised with similar frequency when time-of-exercise was later in the day."
In short, morning people exercised more often (frequently) when they exercised in the mornings, and less often when they exercised in the evenings. Evening people exercised less often with morning times of exercise.
However, everyone exercised at a similar frequency when the time of exercise was later in the day.
Take Home Message
The findings from this study provide initial support for the hypothesis that people will exercise more often if they match their time of exercise to their diurnal preference for morningness (larks), eveningness (owls), or somewhere in between (hummingbirds).
What is Your Diurnal Preference?
If you want to try it for yourself:
1. Use the following scale to determine your dirunal preference. Answer all the questions, and sum your score - which will range from 13 to 55.2
If your score is low (13 - 27), you have an diurnal preference for EVENINGNESS.
If you score is high (41-55), you might have a diurnal preference for MORNINGNESS.
If you score somewhere in the middle (28-40), you might not have a preference for either.
2. Match your exercise time to your preference.
From Smith et al., 1989
Hisler, G. C., Phillips, A. L., & Krizan, Z. (2016). Individual Differences in Diurnal Preference and Time-of-Exercise Interact to Predict Exercise Frequency. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 1-11.
Smith, C. S., Reilly, C., & Midkiff, K. (1989). Evaluation of three circadian rhythm questionnaires with suggestions for an improved measure of morningness. Journal of Applied psychology, 74(5), 728-738.