The best time to exercise for men and women is completely different – here’s why

It’s a well-known fact that the gender research gap has a disproportionate effect on women’s health. Many studies past and present have focussed solely on men and the male anatomy, as women’s bodies tend to have more variables (such as hormones) and historically, women’s health has been undermined by sexist tropes such as the ‘hysterical woman’. In fact, ‘some estimates suggest inclusion of women in sports science research to be as low as 3%,’ a new report, published in Frontiers in Physiology, says.

men and women running in city

But the report isn’t all bad news. Over 12 weeks, researchers compared 30 men and 26 women, both between 25 and 55 years old, who undertake a variety of exercise regimes at different times of day, and the report outlines a key difference in the results that could prove transformative. By providing insight into the impact of ‘exercise time of day (ETOD)’ on physical performance, body composition, cardiometabolic health and psychological mood, the study closes a small piece of the gender research gap. 

outdoor yoga class

During the study, blood pressure, body fat, flexibility, strength and aerobic power were examined in both men and women, with all participants given a specially designed meal plan to follow. Although the research showed that evening exercise was ‘ideal for men interested in improving heart and metabolic health, as well as emotional wellbeing,’ overall the time of day had less of an effect on male participants, while there were markedly different trends identified in the women’s results.

woman running in park

Women wanting to reduce fat around their mid-section and improve their blood pressure should aim to exercise in the morning for the best results; whilst those aiming to improve upper-body muscle strength, mood and food intake, should take exercise in the evening. Whilst further research is needed to know exactly why results were so different, it’s thought that differences in hormones, biological clocks and sleep-wake cycles could all play a role.

As well as fat loss and muscle toning, exercise is a major multitasker when it comes to improving health, helping to reduce fatigue, aid sleep, boost mood and regulate blood sugar, hormones and even the immune system. So ultimately, any exercise is better than none. ‘The best time for exercise is the best time you can do it and fit it into your schedule,’ author of the study Dr Paul Arcerio told the BBC.