Whether you’re just beginning your workout program or are a seasoned veteran exerciser, you may be asking yourself “What is the best time of day to exercise?” It’s a tough question and one that you can find research to support virtually every time of day as the best.
The first thing to keep in mind when determining when you should exercise is your own personal preference. If one particular time of day works best for you, then that’s the time you should stick with. You’re far more likely to maintain your workout routine by doing what is easiest for you. Most people can either instinctually tell or quickly determine what works best for them. Listening to your body should guide you to the time of day that will produce the best results.
Circadian rhythms, or the cycles that our bodies follow, originate in the hypothalamus and regulate many body systems. Controlled by the firing rate of our neurons, circadian rhythms regulate, among other things, metabolism, body temperature, and blood pressure.
The most important of these for your workouts is body temperature. The higher the body temperature, the better your body will perform. The American Council on Exercise states that when your temperature is higher, “your muscles are warm and more flexible, perceived exertion is lower, reaction time is quicker, strength is at its peak, and resting heart rate and blood pressure are lower.” Since your temperature typically reaches its peak in the late afternoon or early evening, this can be your most productive time for strength, endurance, and flexibility workouts.
Also, the levels of cortisol and thyrotropin, two important hormones responsible for metabolism and fat burning, rise the most during evening exercise. So, although surveys show that most people say they prefer to exercise in the morning, most studies indicate that greater gains will occur with a late afternoon or early evening workout.
One thing to keep in mind regarding these later workouts is that, to allow for proper sleep, most people need to complete their workout about two to three hours before falling asleep.
If you have health challenges or medical concerns, consult with your physician or fitness professional before determining what time of day is best for your workouts. Certain conditions lend themselves to working out early and others late.
For instance, morning workouts may be best for someone with multiple sclerosis because the outside temperature is lower and the individual often has more energy. However, an early evening, pre-dinner workout may work for someone with type 2 diabetes because the reduction in blood glucose levels has been shown to be greater at that time, 4 to 5 hours after a meal.
The most important thing to remember is that working out any time of day is better than not working out at all. Experiment a little to find the time that works best for you and start getting the most out of your workouts.
Kent Pegg is a certified personal trainer and the owner of the Los Alamos Fitness Center. Direct questions about the information or exercises in this column to him at 505.662.5232.