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Is there a best time of day to exercise? Two of the top reasons people give for not exercising regularly include lack of results and lack of time. So, for many people, the best time to exercise is the time that is most convenient and the time that fits into a busy schedule.

Research on exercise and time of day is growing, but still limited and not without controversy. In general, if you can find a time for exercise that you can stick with consistently, you will be much more likely to train regularly and get better results.

Human sleep and wake cycles follow a daily cycle called circadian rhythms. It’s this cycle that regulates our body temperature, blood pressure, alertness and metabolism, among other physiological functions. In general, these rhythms conform to our 24-hour day and may be reset based upon environmental cues. The time of day that we typically exercise is one of these cues. By using an alarm clock, establishing meal times and even when we workout are all cues to help rest our rhythms. It has been found that people who consistently exercise in the morning “teach” their body to be most ready for exercise at that time of day. When they switched to evening exercise, they didn’t feel as strong.

The ability to adjust your rhythms is important for athletes training for a specific event. The message is to train at the same time of day that the event will occur. Research supports this advice. Studies show that your ability to maintain exercise intensity will adapt to your training time. Therefore, if you do your marathon training in the morning, you may perform better on race day (marathons typically start in the morning). But if you train in the evening, a morning race day may leave you feeling weaker and slower.

Some people are just naturally morning people. They have no trouble exercising first thing in the morning. Others don’t get moving so quickly and are more likely to feel like exercising later in the day. If you have such an obvious preference it’s pretty easy to decide what sort of exercise schedule you might stick with. The interesting thing is that research shows that no matter when you are better able to exercise, almost all of us are, in fact, physically stronger and have more endurance in the late afternoon.

Not everyone can choose to exercise when they feel like it. Work and family commitments often take priority and we end up squeezing in some exercise. If you find that the only time you have to exercise is when you least feel like it, don’t despair.  You can change your rhythms and your body can adapt to a new exercise time. However, it may take about a month to reset your internal exercise clock.  While there is specific research being conducted on this topic, unfortunately the answer to the question, “What is the best time for exercise?” varies based upon the specific question you ask, your training goals, and your exercise adherence. Here are some of the latest specific research findings:  (a) Late Afternoon is Best for Exercise – Research shows that the optimal time to exercise is when our body temperature is at its highest, which, for most people is 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. (body temperature is at its lowest just before waking); (b) Strength is Greater in the Afternoon
strength output is 5% higher at around mid-day; anaerobic performance, such as sprinting, improves by 5% in the late afternoon; (c) Endurance is Greater in the Afternoon
Aerobic capacity (endurance) is approximately 4% higher in the afternoon; (d) Injuries Are Less Likely in the Afternoon – Afternoon exercise is the best if you want to avoid injuries for many reasons. We are most alert; our body temperature is the highest so our muscles are warm and flexible; and our muscle strength is at its greatest. These three factors make it less likely that we will get injured; (e) Morning Exercisers Are More Consistent – Even though afternoon exercise might be optimal from a physiological standpoint, research also shows that morning exercisers are more likely to stick to it that late-day athletes; and (f) Evening Exercise and Sleep – Most research supports the idea that exercise can improve sleep quality. But does exercising too late in the evening keep you up? Studies have shown improvements in sleep from both morning and afternoon exercise, so it’s not yet clear if evening exercise keeps you up. One study even showed that vigorous exercise half an hour before bedtime did not affect sleep.

The Bottom Line – The good news is that you get to decide the best time for you to exercise based upon your personal goals, schedule and lifestyle. Ideally, you will pick a time that you are able to stick with consistently and make part of your daily or weekly schedule. If you are training for competition, it’s wise to modify your training to accommodate the event start time, and it’s always wise to warm up before any workout.

Questioning the best time to do cardio is like questioning when to take your vitamins. Although there are benefits to both times, in general, the best time is whenever you do it. The right time is based not on science but on your ability to fit it into your schedule. A few precautions should be considered if you have certain health conditions, but your cardio exercise schedule should be based on whatever works best for you.

One of the main reasons some people prefer to do cardio in the morning is the significant impact it has on the rest of their day. A high energy run or bike ride before work is just the boost some people need to keep the momentum going at the office. Some also find that if they work out in the morning they make healthier food choices throughout the day. Studies show that individuals who exercise in the morning are more likely to be consistent with their workouts than if they exercise at any other time of day. Another incentive for a morning cardio workout is the reality that most gyms are slightly less busy at that time.

For those who find it tough to simply get out of bed in the morning, evening cardio has its advantages. The body is fully awake from a full day of activities so warming up takes less time. Your body’s temperature naturally increases a few degrees by the evening, resulting in warmer muscles and a slight increase in your performance. Since you won’t have to rush off to work, you’re more likely to devote more quality time to your workout. Exercising in the evening also curbs your cravings, so you’ll be less likely to snack before bed. Besides, you’re in the gym instead of watching prime time television as a couch potato, which means those snacks might not even be on your mind. Working out in the evening gives you an opportunity to relax and clear your head from the busy day. Doing cardio at night, however, might interfere with sleep, so try to make your workout end at least an hour before bedtime.

It is important to fuel your body before your cardio workout. For those exercising in the morning, this might be a challenge. Consider eating half of your breakfast before the workout and half afterwards. Even a small amount of food is better than nothing. In the evening, consider eating a small snack rather than a large dinner before your cardio. You will feel better and have more energy during your workout if you are not hungry. Whether doing cardio in the early morning or evening, if you are outside make sure you wear appropriate reflective gear and watch out for traffic.

Minimize the amount of times you do back-to-back cardio. That is, evening cardio and then morning cardio the next day. Try to give your body at least 12 hours to recuperate and repair the muscles affected during the cardio workout.  As always, check with your doctor before starting a new workout routine. Everybody is different and each person has specific needs.

Most of us aren’t so crazy about getting up at the crack of dawn for fun things, let alone for exercise (not that we don’t think exercise is fun, of course). But it turns out that there are a number of benefits to setting your alarm clock a little bit earlier and getting your fitness on to the soundtrack of birds chirping and the sun rising.       With all the hustle and bustle of kids, work and life, it can be challenging to make the time to exercise. But exercising in the morning is a wonderful way to create a positive routine and provides many added benefits beyond just keeping you fit.   Here are just some examples: (1) A Consistent Work-out – A big barrier to getting enough exercise is often the fact that it’s hard to fit it into a daily schedule. It’s extra hard if you have kids, work unpredictable hours, or have a somewhat spontaneous social life. If you commit to working out in the morning, however, you’re way less likely to have the excuse of things just popping up. Plus, you won’t be exhausted from a rough day at the office. In fact, people who work out in the morning have shown to stick to their exercise plans better than people who plan to exercise after work; (2) Better Cardiovascular Impact – One of the reasons you’re plugging in time on the treadmill or pounding the pavement is to improve your heart health, right? Well, working out in the morning can actually increase the impact that exercise has on your heart. Why? One of the ways that your body naturally wakes you up is by increasing levels of hormones like adrenaline, which causes your heart to beat faster. This means that you can eke out some extra cardiovascular benefits when you work out in the morning.   A caveat: if you have heart problems, talk to your doctor about working out in the morning, because research has shown that this extra heart activity can lead to chest pain and even heart attacks for people with underlying issues; (3) Brain Boosting Power – Exercise has been proven to increase mental focus and acuity for up to ten whole hours post-workout. If you’re squeezing in your exercise regimen after work, you’re not taking full advantage of those ten hours, since you’re likely sleeping for most of them. An A.M. workout means that both your brain and your body are in good shape all day; (4) Better Weight Loss – If you’re working out to shed some pounds, it looks like the morning is the optimal exercise time for you. An early trip to the gym has been shown to result in fewer food cravings throughout the day. Perhaps even better, working out in the morning means that your body will burn calories faster and more efficiently throughout the day. Combine it with nutritional foods and you have the perfect workout. BETTER DIET – By knocking out your exercise first thing, you will approach your food differently throughout the day. You will be proud of yourself for getting up and burning some calories, so why sabotage it with an unhealthy lunch? Instead, you will want to continue your positive choices by eating foods that make you feel fresh and energized; and (5) More Energy – Exercise releases feel-good compounds like endorphins that improve your mood and energy levels, an effect that can last well into the afternoon if you get your workout in early. Plus, exercising in the morning can help you sleep better than if you work out later in the evening, since you’re not getting that extra energy boost as you’re trying to settle in for the night.

It is very important to always stay in good shape so as to avert any kind of health problems. However, for a successful workout, it is recommended to exercise each morning. Some of the reasons why morning exercises is beneficial are:   (1)  Boosts metabolism – Any time you work-out at dawn, it boosts your metabolism. It helps keeping it elevated throughout the day. This means that you will be burning calories even when you are not exercising during the day. Furthermore, exercising at dawn provides lots of energy or doing daily tasks; (2) Appetite regulation – Morning workouts help regulate appetite during the day. When you work-out at dawn, you will make better choices with regards to the kind of foods you want to consume. Many people have said that this kind of workout clears their mind and gives them a healthier mindset; (3) Best time to exercise – Through exercising at dawn; you make certain that nothing else is going to get in your way and crowd your schedule. In most instances, when you are having a hectic day, you are going to overlooking working out. As such, dawn is the best time of the day to work out since it also offers fewer distractions; and (4) Improves sleep – Research clearly shows that those who exercise frequently at dawn have better quality sleep. As such, these people need less sleep. Waking up half an hour earlier at dawn to work out can therefore benefit you with improved sleep. When necessary, you are advised to make sure you sleep earlier and you will have a simpler time waking up.

Morning exercises provide a good opportunity for thinking clearly, planning the day or simply relaxing mentally. Exercise also enhances mental acuity and thus it is a better use of the brain, rather than just sleeping at dawn.

I exercise every day, in the late afternoon, and the workout really does help.   In the summer time I even do water aerobics in the pool.   I find the daily exercise very exhilarating.   Even by exercising later in the day you also get the opportunity to work off any irritations and frustrations from the day.

Kathy Liefer


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