Is there a best time to exercise?
Consistency is what really matters
By Erica K. Perkins,
Fitness Director, University of Virginia
There are many opinions on this topic. The differing answers take into consideration lots of influencing factors such as digestion, joint mobility, circulation, metabolism, environmental conditions and even your biorhythms. No wonder many of us are left confused.
To try to make sense of it for you, here’s the latest insight on the topic.
Why morning may be best
Some research suggests that people who work out in the morning are more likely to stick with their exercise program. But this may be because they get it "out of the way" first thing and so are less likely to skip an evening workout due to fatigue or a busy schedule. Morning exercise also may be necessary if you live in an area where smog, heat or other environmental factors can spoil your outdoor workout. Air is coolest and clearest in the a.m.
On the other hand, if your exercise time changes from day to day, and it is leaving you tired, or if you are not achieving the goals you have set, then you may want to consider some of the latest research in our bodies natural rhythms.
Why late afternoon may be best
Circadian rhythms originate in the hypothalamus and regulate everything from body temperature and metabolism to blood pressure. The rhythms result from the firing rate of neurons and have conformed to our 24-hour light-to-dark cycle.
The influence of circadian rhythms on body temperature appears to have the greatest affect on workout quality. When body temperature is at its highest, muscles are warm and more flexible, reaction time is faster and strength is at its peak. When your temperature is low, exercise sessions may be less productive.
Body temperature is at its lowest one to three hours before most of us wake up in the morning, and at its highest in the late afternoon, approximately 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Consistency is what counts
If you are a morning exerciser and you feel good starting your day that way, then don't fix what isn’t broken. Really, the best time of day to exercise is when you will do it. Especially for those training for health and fitness, the physiological benefits of exercising in the afternoon, doesn't make enough of a difference to warrant disrupting a suitable routine.
What’s more, research shows that people who exercise in the morning are more successful at making physical activity a regular habit, therefore reaping more rewards of consistent exercise.
If you are a competitive athlete who needs to achieve maximum strength and power, then you may want to consider adjusting your routine with consultation from a coach and/or trainer.
Bottom line: the key is to find something that works for your body and your schedule so you will exercise regularly for the rest of your life!