“Do I have to get up in the morning to exercise, or can I exercise when it’s convenient for me?” Some exercise beginners will ask that question probably hoping to hear they don’t need to get to a gym at 6 AM. More avid exercisers will ask if there is a better time in the day to exercise to get better results. Both groups are basically asking the same question, ” Is there a best time in the day to exercise?” but for different reasons. I’ll add a third reason – weight loss. Is it better to exercise at a certain time of the day to lose weight? Convenience, performance, and weight loss – let’s take a look at each of these as they relate to the time of day to exercise.
What Time of the Day Should I Exercise?
There isn’t much research in this area – the time of day to best exercise, but there is some. First, there are pros and cons for exercising at various times during the day.
For most, convenience is the biggest and most important factor in determining what time of the day they exercise. Exercise at anytime is better than no exercise. Studies, however, show that individuals who exercise in the morning are more likely to be consistent exercisers than those who exercise in the afternoon or evening.
We all know that as the day goes on there can any number of distractions which may make it difficult to get to the gym at lunch or allow enough time in the evening. By exercising first thing in the morning you get your exercise in before the excuses (reasons) for not exercising start popping up.
Find a time in the day for you when interruptions are kept to a minimum – preferably this will also be a time when your energy level is also high. Some people are morning people and some are not. But, over time you can change the rhythms of your body and train yourself to be a morning person, an afternoon person, and so on. For a long time I exercised in the early evening, but was able to adapt to early morning exercise when my scheduled changed and got used to it after two weeks. Though I was consistent with my early evening exercise routine, I became more consistent exercising in the morning.
Research does show that the best time to exercise to improve muscle strength/endurance and cardiovascular endurance is when our bodies are their warmest. This usually occurs 6 to 12 hours after we wake up. We are the coolest shortly before waking up. So if you wake at 6 AM then consider exercising between noon and 6 PM. Injuries theoretically are less likely as our muscles and joints are less likely to be injured when warmer.
Afternoon exercising enables us to burn off some stress that has accumulated in the first half of the day, too. Afternoon exercise may reduce overeating at lunch time – who wants to exercise after a big lunch?
Cortisol Levels and High Intensity Exercise
Some researchers are looking at cortisol levels to determine the best time to perform high intensity training. Cortisol is the “stress” hormone. The thinking is that it is best not to do high intensity training when cortisol levels are high, but rather when they are normal or slightly low. High intensity training adds to the stress on the body and will raise cortisol even further, potentially overloading the body with too much stress.
Cortisol levels are typically highest first thing the morning when we wake up, because believe it or not, but waking up is one of the most stressful acts our bodies do everyday. Based on cortisol levels the best time for most individuals to perform high intensity exercise is afternoon to early evening.
Experts disagree on the best time of the day to exercise for the purpose of losing weight. Some argue that for weight loss exercise first thing in the morning is better. The reasoning is that fasting overnight has diminished glycogen in our muscles forcing the body to tap into its fat stores to burn energy. But, it may be harder for some to exercise at the same intensity that they might be able to later in the day limiting the number of calories burned during early morning exercise.
But, early morning exercise will give a boost to your metabolism that will enable you to burn more calories throughout the day. Morning exercise improves sleep, and poor sleep is associated with weight gain. Exercising too late in the evening does interfere with obtaining good quality sleep for some exercisers.
Unless your training for an event, or are still competing, it probably makes more sense to exercise during the time of day most convenient for you. Carve out dedicated time around that period and don’t allow the noise of life prevent you from performing an important act – exercise – to improve your health and quality of life.