Working out offers many positive effects but choosing the timing can be tricky. Find out some of the benefits of afternoon exercise.
These effects are a mix of biological causes and factors that have to do with personal preference. They could help you realize why afternoon workouts are the best for you.
However, keep in mind that working out at other times of the day also offers very positive effects.
1. Can help you take your mind off a busy day
Short sessions of stress and intense business can be good for your body and mental state but when they turn into long time periods of worrying they can have the opposite effect.
Exercising in the afternoon, after your most intense responsibilities of the day, can help you calm your mind.
Other activities that engage you can also help with this.
However, it is definitely hard to think about other things while back squatting 200 pounds (90.7 kg) or sprinting compared to while reading a book you were not that interested in.
2. You may need less time to warm up
Warming up before working out is typically recommended. Especially before exercises that are intense or require a lot of flexibility.
In the morning, right after you just spent 8 hours lying still to sleep, this warm-up process may take a little longer.
Something similar can apply to evening workouts if you were inactive for a few hours after the main part of your day.
It tends to be more likely that you just moved around at least somewhat in the afternoon. In turn, your warmups could be just a bit shorter.
This benefit alone is likely not enough to turn you toward afternoon exercise but if you train a lot, the time saved adds up in the long term.
3. Can help you find your second breath
After a long day at work, at school, or after other responsibilities it can feel like you don’t have any energy left to do much.
While it may sound strange, exercising at this point can actually help you feel more energetic again by raising your heart rate, cortisol levels (the so-called stress hormone but it can be good too), and body temperature.
The afternoon workout may take a bit of time but it can also help you finish stronger and get more out of the end of each day.
4. Could help you lift more weights
So far, it seems like the morning vs afternoon vs evening exercise debate is still ongoing in terms of what option the most effective is for things like improving longevity (1).
Even so, one review of studies from 2019 suggests that people can lift slightly heavier weights in the evening (and thus normally to some extent the afternoon) compared to the morning (2).
One important thing the review notes is that they also found no differences in strength and muscle size increases between morning and evening exercise.
That means being able to lift more could mostly look good on paper.
In theory, resistance training workouts could be just a bit for weight loss in the afternoon for this reason. You generally need to use more energy (calories) to move heavier weights.
However, this last point is mostly speculation that needs more investigation. Even if resistance training timing does have an impact on weight loss, it will likely be very small.
5. Sets the tone for your at-home time
Humans have an instinct called the consistency bias. In simple words, that means we have a tendency to act and think like we did in the past.
This bias is not a law and can be overridden with effort but you may as well use it to your advantage.
By working out in the afternoon, you set the tone for the rest of your day.
Choosing to do something that may feel uncomfortable in the short term for long term benefits can make it easier to implement other habits like a healthy dinner, meditation, reading a book, etc.
6. You may like it more
The next benefit is relatively straightforward. Some people simply like exercising in the afternoon more than the other options.
This could be due to some unexplainable feeling or something more specific like the way your responsibilities like work, kids, and partner tend to be structured.
Since it currently looks like the differences in physical effects are not too big, it is likely worth choosing a time of the day when exercise is the easiest to fit in.
7. Improves your mood for your at-home time
Similar to energy levels, your mood may not be the best after a rough day at work, school, or other responsibilities.
Besides taking your mind off these things, afternoon exercise can also start a variety of internal processes that put you in a better mood.
Something to note is that this applies to working out at all times of the day. One study measured similar reductions in depressive symptoms for morning and evening exercise (6).
However, if the evening tends to be a time when you feel grumpy, sad, or just not as happy as you want, exercising in the afternoon could offer the benefits you need.
8. Could be better for controlling blood sugar levels
Temporary increases in blood sugar levels for being able to deal with an intense activity are not always bad. However, many people would benefit in terms of health by having lower blood glucose levels throughout the day.
Currently, it looks like afternoon exercise is more beneficial for this goal than morning exercise.
One study with 32 people at risk for or diagnosed with type 2 diabetes measured that afternoon exercise had more positive effects on peripheral insulin sensitivity and lowered fasting plasma glucose levels more (7).
Another study with 11 men with type 2 diabetes also observed that afternoon HIIT sessions were better than morning HIIT sessions for improving blood glucose levels (8).