As the world around you seems to get busier and busier, finding time to work out can become a job of its own. But it can be tough to get motivated after a certain hour. Below, you can find a number of night time and evening workout tips to help re-energize your routine.
Some days — especially if you’ve had a rough day at work — the last thing you want to do is put in effort at the gym. But exercising at night means more than burning calories or building muscle. It means you may be creating other benefits as well.
Can Exercising In The Evening Affect Your Sleep?
You may have heard that working out at night may adversely affect your sleep patterns. This is only partially true. It may indeed be harder to fall asleep, and stay asleep, if you work out less than an hour before bedtime. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the evening is completely off-limits.1
Whether you engage in resistance training or aerobic exercise, you may still be able to do it in the evening. You should make sure your evening workout follows certain parameters:
- Moderate intensity (when you reach 64-76% of your maximum heart rate)
- No longer than 30 minutes
- Completed at least 90 minutes before bedtime(this allows time for your core body temperature to return to pre-workout levels)2,3
Many people who exercise at night report that they sleep both better and longer on the days that they exercise. This can be true even for people who engage in more vigorous exercise.4,5
Everyone’s body is different, of course. You may find that your own circadian rhythms work differently.6 But it is possible that exercising in the evening may actually help you get a good night’s sleep, as long as it’s not too close to bedtime.
Cortisol, Sleep, And Exercise: A Complex Relationship
Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands. You’ve probably heard it described as the “stress hormone.” It’s partially responsible for the increase in heart rate and blood pressure that you may feel in stressful situations.7
You may also have heard that cortisol may influence weight gain and body composition. It is true that higher cortisol levels correlate with abdominal fat and future weight gain.8,9
Elevated cortisol levels may also disrupt sleep patterns. This can create a vicious cycle of unhealthful responses. Stress can impair both the quantity and quality of your sleep. And lack of sleep can elevate the cortisol levels that kept you from sleeping in the first place.10
Exercise And Stress
You know exercise may help support your mood, no matter what time of day it is. And exercise, in general, may also help with the way you deal with daily stress.11 So, you might be surprised that exercise can actually increase levels of cortisol.
How can exercise make you feel better even as it releases the “stress hormone” into your bloodstream? As it turns out, the cortisol released during exercise is different from the cortisol released by stress. It actually elevates dopamine levels in the brain.12
And some cortisol is necessary for regulating your metabolism. As long as you’re not overtraining, your cortisol levels should be within a healthy range.13
The less stressed you are, the better your chances are for high-quality sleep.14 So, if you find yourself having trouble getting a good night’s sleep, exercising in the evening may be worth a shot. Of course, always consult with your doctor before beginning any new exercise regimen.
How To Stay Motivated After The Sun Goes Down
It’s one thing to know you should get your exercise. It’s another thing to actually do it, especially when the day is coming to a close. But when it comes to exercise, consistency is as important as anything else.15 It’s important to establish a routine you can follow.
Not everyone finds it easy to stay motivated, though. There are a few techniques you can use to get yourself ready and even eager to work out in the evening.
Set Manageable Goals
Thirty minutes of high-intensity interval training may sound like a worthy goal. It’s probably not a realistic one, especially if you are just starting on your fitness journey. Start out with smaller, more achievable targets at first. By setting smaller goals you can easily accomplish, you’ll feel more motivated and will, therefore, be more likely to establish exercise as a routine.16
Be Kind To Yourself
You’re human. There will be days when life makes it impossible to get that evening workout in. But that doesn’t mean you’ve failed. You need a rest, too. The kinder you are to yourself when you miss a day, the easier it will be to get back in the gym the next day.
And when you do make it in, reward yourself. Check-in with your body before and after your workout to really feel the difference. Once you appreciate how good it feels, you’ll want to keep going day after day.17,18
Do Something You Enjoy
Motivation can come from something as simple as choosing the right type of exercise for the time of day. At the end of the day, the idea of doing strenuous exercise may seem daunting. Picking a physical activity that’s enjoyable can help you to stay consistent.19,20
Great Exercises For Your Evening Workout
Your goals may involve weight loss, muscle growth, or both. You may be able to achieve them all with evening workouts. Here are some great exercises to consider, once you’ve received approval from your doctor.
Less stress means better sleep. And studies show that yoga may be an effective way to manage stress, as well as being a great workout.21
A regular yoga practice may support:
- Muscle growth
- Heart and lung health
- Healthy sleep patterns22
According to some studies, swimming may be one of the most effective ways to reduce body weight and increase muscular strength.23,24 It’s also a great workout for the evening hours. At least one study suggests that evening may be the best time to maximize swimming performance.25
Whether it’s in the morning, afternoon, or evening, running may help reduce anxiety no matter what time of day.26 And less anxiety is linked to better sleep.27
If you prefer running outside instead of using a treadmill, make sure you are highly visible to cars and pedestrians alike. As the sun goes down, be sure to wear light-colored, reflective clothing, as well as running lights.
If your goals are strength building and muscle growth, you may opt for resistance workouts. If you don’t have time to make it to the gym for weight training, you can also try bodyweight exercises like push-ups and pull-ups.
Studies show that resistance exercises may be effective even at relatively low intensity.28,29 And resistance training at any time of the day may improve both sleep quality and duration.30
Something as simple as walking can be an effective form of exercise, especially for people whose jobs require them to sit for long periods of time.31 Walking may help increase aerobic capacity, and may even help with cholesterol levels.32 It’s an easy, relaxing way to get the body moving and wind down the day.
A Note About Food And Evening Exercise
Whether you’re engaged in cardio or strength training, it’s important that you eat appropriately for your workout. Some studies show no significant difference in performance between fasted and fed exercise. But your body needs nutrients to recover from your workout. So if you don’t eat before you exercise, it’s important to eat afterward.33
Talk to your doctor about which foods are best for you to consume before or after a workout.
Feel Good, Sleep Well
The National Sleep Foundation notes that people who exercise regularly, no matter what time of day, report better sleep.34 Better sleep means higher energy levels throughout the day.35 And more energy makes it easier to stay motivated when it comes to your workout.
As with any exercise regimen, you need to do what works best for your body. Talk to your doctor about your fitness goals and how to tailor them to work with your body’s circadian rhythm. Once you do, you’ll likely feel better every morning — and rest easy at night.