One of the most common questions I am asked on a regular basis is what’s the best time to exercise? Usually it’s not even in the form of a question … “So and so said its best to work out the second I get out of bed before I eat… or I heard if you exercise at night you will sleep better… better still, my friend told me if I workout any time after lunch time that I won’t lose weight”. They can’t all be right can they? Or can they?
Circadian Rhythms Tell a Story
Your body’s inborn internal clock (circadian rhythm) determines whether you are a morning person or a late night prowler. It’s this cycle that regulates our body temperature, blood pressure, alertness and metabolism, all of which play a role in your body’s readiness for exercise. A study at the University of North Texas found that although these cycles are inborn they can be reset with the help from alarm clocks, daily routines, meal times and most notably workout schedules. They found that athletes that trained for a specific event performed better if they trained at the same time the event would take place. In other words if you train your body to exercise in the morning and randomly throw a night workout in, chances are you aren’t going to feel as good as you would in the morning. Conclusion here: everybody is different and therefore will feel better training at different times of the day, and we can train our bodies to follow a workout schedule at any time of day given that we are consistent.
Morning, Afternoon or Night?
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). Given this conclusion the following has been studied and found to be true:
1) Strength is greater in late afternoon. Although only a 5% increase, such activities that involve anaerobic activity ( like sprints, lifting weights) are greater in the afternoon.
2) Endurance is greater in late afternoon. Aerobic activity such as running, jogging, and cardio are up by 4% in the afternoon.
3) Injuries are less likely in late afternoon. The reasons for this is 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. Reducing our chance for injury.
Although the 3 points above can be argued that warming up before exercise can increase body temperature and the increases gained in the late afternoon are marginal the fact remains they exist.
Even though afternoon exercise might be optimal from a physiological standpoint, research suggests in terms of performing a consistent exercise habit, individuals who exercise in the morning tend to do better, says Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief science officer with the American Council on Exercise. The thinking is that they get their exercise in before other time pressures interfere.
Most research supports that exercise improves sleep quality, but does exercising at night keep you up? The answer lies within the individual differences that exist among all of us. Research suggests that exercising too close to bed time can keep you up due to the release of endorphins (natural high) however, if you are very tired that night, chances are you would not have troubles falling asleep.
At the end of the day (no pun intended) the decision is up to you to make. Choosing a time to work out will vary among everyone based on 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. Now that you have a clearer picture (that it doesn’t matter what time you exercise), commit to your fitness goals and stay consistent.