What is the best time of day to exercise?

Well, this answer comes easily – WHENEVER YOU CAN! We will look at the pros and cons  and some of the science regarding  morning vs. afternoon/ evening workouts, but I assure you my final answer will still be – whenever you can fit it in.

There has been a lot of research on finding the optimal time of day someone should exercise, and a lot of it revolves around our body’s natural clock, also known as our circadian rhythm. This 24 hr “clock” affects our body temperature, hormones, metabolism and even blood pressure among other things. Although each one if us is born with a natural clock (thus early birds vs. night owls), this clock can be shifted by our exposure to light and also through setting daily rituals and habits. For example if you are not a morning person, but find that a 5am workout is your only shot at exercise for the day, you can change your internal clock by going to bed earlier, turning the lights on when you are getting ready for your workout, etc… This reset could take as long as a month before your body gets completely used to it, so hang in there if this describes you.

Are morning workouts really better than afternoon workouts like we often hear? Some say that exercise in the morning raises your metabolism for the rest of the day, so therefore you burn more total calories throughout the day. This may be true, but research shows it to be pretty minimal. Exercise physiologist Richard Cotton commented on this very point, ” There is some evidence that morning exercise promotes more fat burning….but the difference is so small it really wouldn’t matter.” So don’t make this fact your sole reason for  getting up at the crack of dawn.

I believe the greatest benefit of working out in the morning is the habit it forms and the fact that what happens during your day doesn’t steal your workout. As moms, everyday is different and your schedule can turn on a dime. There is ALWAYS something or someone else who needs our attention. Setting your workouts in the morning assures you (most of the time anyway) that you got in your workout for the day, and you can focus on everything else. I am naturally a morning person, so when my kids were young, I went to the gym at 5 am  to get in my workout to make sure I fit it in. Honestly, this was early even for my circadian rhythm, but I did what I had to do. Now, that didn’t happen every morning ;), but when it did, I found I felt better and was glad to have it done for the day.

If you do choose early workouts, remember to allow yourself extra time to warm up. Your body temp is naturally at least a couple of degrees lower in the morning than the afternoon, so give those muscles time to warm up to avoid injury and allow for optimum performance.

Some research associates “optimum performance” with afternoon workouts, specifically between 2 and 4 pm when our body temp. is at it’s highest. Strength gain and endurance rates appear to be better than in the morning as  well. One study showed that a person can lift slightly higher weight in the afternoon which does indicate a performance positive for those afternoon workouts. I feel the best benefit for an afternoon workout is to get over that 2 o’clock “slump” we often feel. Instead of reaching for another cup of coffee, get your heart pumping!

If your days are so busy you can’t take a full 30 min to 1 hr at one time, break up your workouts into 10 minute increments. This may work best for stay at home moms since 10 minutes may be all they can fit in at once. The key here, is to really complete those 10 min. sessions and make them count giving it your best effort. The danger in this method is forgetting to do them or allowing other things to steal that time away. Make a check list for your 10 min. sessions and be diligent about marking them off before the end of the day.

Now there are a few night owls who might enjoy exercise in the evenings. Again, this can be a good solution for a mom who wants some personal time after her husband gets home and can watch the kids. Great for the body AND the mind I say! Just be careful not to exercise too close to  bed time, b/c it can disrupt your sleep cycle. Generally it is best to not exercise about 2 hours before bed time.

 

The differences and benefits between morning and afternoon may be slight and should not deter someone from continuing their morning or afternoon workouts if that is what works for them. These details about optimum performance and body temperature are interesting (at least to exercise junkies like myself 😉 ), but again the answer to this question is still whenever you can fit exercise into your schedule. Find what fits your body’s natural clock and your schedule and stick to it!  Consistency, no matter the time of day, is what is best for your body and is what will ultimately deliver results.

 

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