The Best Time Of Day To Exercise

Rise and shine! It's time to get moving!
Photo: Robert S. Donovan

I am a slug by nature and would spend most of my time ordering about my man servants (I’m talking to you, Hugh Jackman!) to take on my most menial tasks were money not a consideration. However, it is. In spite of, or because of, this slug-like mentality, I have achieved some notoriety as a world class procrastinator and excuse maker. And yet this behavior flies in the face of my workout routine which I do as early in the day as possible because I know if I don’t, it just won’t get done. Sure, I can be a night owl with the best of them but that doesn’t extend to when I exercise. For me, I need to get it done early so I don’t have to think about it anymore and because my after-dinner energy level drops lower than the necklines of the Fox News female bunnies anchors (meant in the nicest possible way but ladies, please, leave something to the imagination).

Given that we’ve all come to the conclusion that exercise is good, is there one best time of the day to exercise or can it vary with the individual? I know in my case I feel more invigorated for the rest of the day and my time seems generally more productive if I’ve exercised first thing. But there’s actually some science behind in terms of results and physiology. This article cites a study of overweight women aged 50 to 75 which found that the ladies who exercised consistently in the morning fared better than those who exercised at night. The difference in the results came down to how well they slept at night. Nighttime exercise seems to disrupt our internal body clock or circadian rhythm which causes the sleep disruption. If your sleep is light or disrupted, certain hormones in the body that control appetite get stimulated. Okay, usually stimulation is a good thing but not in this case. More fitful sleep will keep those appetite hormones in check.

There are some other factors to consider in terms of figuring out the best time of day to exercise.

MORNINGS: In most of the articles I read, it appeared that better workout habits were formed when done in the morning. Most people who regularly exercise do so early in their day and carry that invigorated feeling with them for hours more. You also get that boost to your metabolism first thing which helps to burn more calories earlier in the day. Also, when you tackle exercise first thing in the morning, there is a much lower chance of interruptions or distractions interfering with your workout. Babies and children might still be asleep (God willing), the phone hasn’t started ringing and the messy business of life in general hasn’t reared its ugly head yet and thrown a monkey wrench into your best laid plans. And you can always accommodate your extra workout time by waking up earlier.

I'm really not a morning person -
until after that first cup of catnip.
Photo: intoBooks

There is some downside to morning workouts. Your body’s temperature is at its lowest a few hours before waking so you don’t always feel so rarin’ to go. There’s also the fact that your muscles are stiff and cold and need to be warmed up before engaging in exercise (a good habit to develop anyway). And, you just might not be a morning person. I had my share of roommates who fit into this category and it was not pretty. If your inclination is to avoid waking up early at any cost then morning workout aren’t for you. Don’t try to force the issue or your workouts will be flaming out real soon.

LUNCH/BREAK TIME: So maybe you’re the type of person who needs a few hours to wake up before you count yourself among the living. A case can be made for mid-day workouts too. It is a great time to break up the stresses of the day by exercising at lunch time, and you have a good chance of finding a partner from work or school to team up with and help keep you honest and accountable to the routine. You can temper your appetite or snack habit with a workout. Your body temperature and hormone levels are higher than the morning and the improved blood flow from the exercise will help sustain your mental acuity for the remainder of the day (if you’re lucky enough to have work that requires that sort of thing).

The downside about afternoon workouts is that distractions and interruptions are more likely to creep in. There’s always the chance of that last minute conference call or having to run a sick child over to the doctor’s office to throw you off track. You also might not be able to fit in exercise AND lunch into the time allotted. Lung function is also at its worst around noon and while that not might make a big difference with a regular workout, you could feel it with a strenuous one.

Physiologically speaking, this looks like a pretty good time to be active: Your body temperature and hormone levels peak at 6PM so exercise done 3 hours earlier or later than that is best for building endurance and muscle. Your muscles are warm and flexible and your lung function is best between 4-5pm. With all these factors working in your favor, you might be able to work out harder and faster at this time of day. As with exercise anytime, it helps to relieve the stresses of the day. Also, working out before eating dinner is a good way to help limit how much you have.

The downside with exercising this late in the day are all the distractions that could impinge on your workout. Continued interruptions might leave you feeling frustrated and too willing to avoid exercising altogether.

A future nighttime player
Photo: efleming

This time of day shares the same pros as the afternoon workouts but have a few additional cons to consider. There will still be the danger of being interrupted from your workout but the biggest thing to keep in mind is allowing yourself 1to 3 hours to unwind after a workout so as not to have your sleep affected. Losing sleep is going to work counter to your weight loss goals, as discussed above. If this is a problem for you, consider working out earlier in the day.

Mornings: In the summer, temperatures and smog are at their lowest levels.
Afternoons: In the winter, the temperatures reach their peak around 2-3pm.
Evenings: Be sure to wear reflective clothing.

The bottom line is that what really counts is that you exercise to begin with; no matter the time of day

What time of day do you exercise? And why is that the best time for you?

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