Q: What’s the best time of day to exercise?
A: The best time of day to exercise is the time that works best for you. Studies go back and forth on this topic and there are benefits in exercising in the morning and later in the day. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and lifestyle. Choose a time that helps you make exercise a regular and consistent part of your routine. Here’s why:
It’s all about finding your rhythm.
Ever wonder why some of us are morning people while others are not? This has quite a bit to do with your body’s internal clock, or your circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are a daily cycle of sleep and wake cycles. It’s this cycle that regulates physical, mental, and behavioral changes within a 24-hour period. Body temperature, blood pressure, and metabolism are some of the physiological processes that can be affected by your body’s internal clock. These rhythms respond to changes in the environment and can be set and reset. The changes in the environment that can have an effect on circadian rhythms include lightness and darkness, temperatures within the environment, artificial light, the use of an alarm clock to wake, timing of meals, and time of day you exercise. Your personal clock can affect what time of day you prefer to exercise. So, are you a morning person or a night owl?
If you’re a morning person…
It’s a no brainer: You should workout in the AM. Research suggests that those who exercise in the morning tend to be more consistent with their exercise routine. The idea is you’ll get your workout in before any other events or distractions of the day interfere, thus setting yourself up for success. People who exercise earlier in the day generally find they can manage their time better and they feel more energized throughout the day. If you do exercise in the morning, make sure to give yourself a little extra warm-up time to get your body temperature elevated and your muscles warm. Some people have trouble exercising in the morning because of dizziness, fatigue, or lightheadedness experienced when working out on an empty stomach. If that happens to you, try having a small snack, such as a banana or a serving of low-fat yogurt, prior to exercise.
If you’re a night owl…
Afternoon or evening exercise can be the perfect way to unwind. Some people find that afternoon or evening workouts are more productive and help relieve some of the stresses of the day. For others, exercise in the morning doesn’t feel good because, when you wake up, your muscles may feel tight and your blood sugars may be low. Afternoon or evening workouts may just seem that much better because you are more alert, your body temperature is naturally elevated, and your muscles are warm and flexible. You also have the added benefit of having had the opportunity to get some food in your system which can help you feel more energized during your workout.
Whether you exercise for weight loss, stress relief, or one of the many other health benefits, it is important to be consistent. Schedule that time for exercise based on what works best for you — morning, noon, or afternoon. Your body’s internal clock will reset itself and your sleep habits and changes to meal times will either fall into place or can be adjusted based on when you decide to work up a sweat!
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Jennifer Bayliss is a fitness expert and coach at Everyday Health. She is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association, a AFAA certified personal trainer, and holds both an undergraduate and a graduate degree in exercise science.