Does it really matter what time of day you choose to exercise? After all, some people swear by their early morning jog, while others see an evening gym session as the best way to relieve the stress of a hectic workday. There are several schools of thought, and plenty of advocates on all sides of the argument. So is there really any one time of the day that's better than another? Take the following into account if you're wondering when's the best time of day to exercise.
One of the main drivers of the various "best time of day" theories floating around is the notion that your body burns calories more efficiently at certain times of the day. While no reliable scientific evidence has emerged yet to confirm this notion, the time of day can play a huge part in how you feel when you're exercising. The general consensus among experts is that you should choose a time of day that won't be difficult for you to commit to, and then stick with it consistently until it becomes a part of your normal routine.
Morning Exercise: Some Ideas to Consider
If consistency has been your Achilles heel, you might want to consider making mornings your primary exercise time. According to Dr. Cedric X. Bryant, Chief Science Officer for the American Council on Exercise, research indicates that people who are aiming for consistency in their workouts "tend to do better" with a morning exercise schedule versus any other time of the day. By squeezing in an early morning workout, you are able to get it out of the way before encountering many of the variables that can potentially derail a mid-day or evening workout.
In addition, a recent study conducted by Appalachian State University found that morning workouts can help you get a better night's sleep. The study monitored the sleep patterns of a group of individuals aged 40 to 60 who performed a 30-minute treadmill workout three times a week, scheduled at three different times of the day: 7 a.m., 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. The participants who worked out during the 7 a.m. time slot slept longer and experienced a more extensive "deep sleep" cycle than those who worked out during the other two time slots. This same study also noted that the morning group experienced a 25% dip in blood pressure during the night hours, as well as a 10% decrease in average blood pressure during the day.
Afternoon Exercise: A Performance Booster?
One study published by the National Institutes of Health suggested that exercising in the afternoon could enhance workout performance. The study tracked the exercise output of two groups of cyclists, one of which trained at 6 a.m. and one at 6 p.m. Researchers discovered that the 6 p.m. group experienced a higher power output than their morning counterparts.
Complexity of movement was also a factor that influenced performance; based on the results of the experiment, the researchers developed a theory that exercises which require more complex movements (e.g. cycling, swimming, etc.) can be better performed during afternoon or evening workouts, while less demanding exercises (e.g., walking) are more easily performed during the early morning hours.
Working out later in the day can also possibly reduce the risk of injury, because the body's core temperature is higher during that time, which means that the muscles and joints are sufficiently warmed up enough to handle the rigors of exercise.
This doesn't mean that early birds are doomed to injury, though; if you work out in the morning, all you have to do is make sure that you perform some kind of light exercise (e.g., jumping jacks, light jogging, etc.) before starting your workout to loosen up your muscles and warm everything up. If you plan to do any stretching (which is never a bad idea), do it only after you have done your pre-workout light exercise; this will keep you from straining any cold muscles.
The Bottom Line
One thing that practically all experts agree on is that some exercise is better than no exercise at all. Try not to get bogged down in too many scheduling details, and just do your best to fit your workouts in whenever you can. Working out at the same exact time every day may not always be realistic when you're juggling dozens of scheduling priorities, so just do your best to get your workouts in whenever the opportunity presents itself. Your body will always benefit from a good exercise session, no matter when you choose to do it.