Ever since we changed from daylight savings time, I’ve had trouble waking up for my early morning workouts. I don’t know if it’s the time change, the change in weather, or just age, but I’ve been going to the gym much later than usual. Although I am getting more sleep, my late workouts seem to lack the intensity and concentration of my previous routine. This morning, I finally got there at my regular time and had one of my best workouts in weeks. Apparently, my preference for one over the other has to do with my circadian rhythm, or internal body clock. Our circadian rhythm regulates our sleep/wake cycle, and controls the release of hormones to get us going in the morning. Circadian rhythm is governed by the twenty-four hour pattern of the earth’s rotation (especially daylight and darkness). These rhythms influence body functions such as blood pressure, body temperature, hormone levels, metabolism, and heart rate, all of which play a role in our body’s readiness for exercise.
So, you ask, when IS the best time of the day to exercise? The answer: It depends …
There’s really no reliable evidence to suggest that calories are burned more efficiently at certain times of day. But the time of day can influence how you feel when exercising. If you know you’re a night owl and find yourself reading or doing work until well past midnight, it’s not likely that you will fly out of bed at 5 a.m. for a workout. And while using your body clock as a guide for when to hit the gym might seem like a good idea, there are other important considerations, such as family obligations, work schedules, or an exercise partner’s availability. However, here are some advantages (and limitations) of working out at different times of the day.
“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 in San Diego. “The thinking is that they get their exercise in before other time pressures interfere”. Most people can make time for it by getting up just a little bit earlier. Also, because there are fewer distractions and schedule interruptions, it’s easier to make exercise a habit in the morning. Since your body’s glycogen levels are low first thing in the morning, your body will burn fat for a fuel source first. Early morning workouts raise your heart rate and metabolism to burn more calories earlier in the day, increasing your energy and improving mental acuity. However, cold, stiff muscles may be more prone to injury , so if you exercise in the morning, when your body temperature is lower, you should allow more time to warm up than you would later in the day.
For many, having a daily block of time available is the key to the success of their lunchtime workouts. Having a workout “buddy” at work, school or in your neighborhood can make you more accountable at that time, and because your body temperature and hormone levels are higher than first thing in the morning, your workouts may be more productive. Also, working out at this time can help regulate the amount of food you feel like eating for lunch, improve blood flow to the brain so you are sharper in the afternoon, and help relieve workplace stress. However, time constraints, distractions and other commitments may not allow you to get in a full workout. (It’s best if you can get in 30 to 60 minutes or more at a stretch).
Late Afternoon to Evening Workout
Some of the benefits of working out at this time: muscle strength is greater, muscles are warmer because of a slightly higher body temperature, lung function is improved and you even have a greater tolerance for discomfort because your perceived exertion (how hard you feel yourself to be working) is low. You may be able to work out harder or faster, making it the ideal time to hit the weight room or tackle a high intensity spin class For most people, body temperature and hormone levels peak at 6 p.m. Exercising within three hours before or after the peak will increase endurance and muscle building. As with lunchtime workouts, other commitments may keep you from exercising regularly at this time. Also, you need to allow about one to three hours to wind down after exercise in order to be able to fall asleep.
If you’re still at the point where exercise is hit or miss, scheduling it for the same time each day will help you make it a habit. Whether you choose morning, lunchtime, or after work to exercise, make it part of your routine. Put it on your calendar as an appointment you’re required to keep. You’d think twice about skipping a doctor’s appointment or even an appointment with your hairdresser. Why not give your body that same consideration? One of the best steps that you can take to ensure working out on a regular basis is to assess your daily agenda and determine the best time for working out. Work out in the morning for a few weeks, then try noon, then early evening. Which do you enjoy most and which makes you feel best afterward? Also, consider the type of exercise, and other daily commitments. You might find that changing your weekly routine is the best method. Choose a time that helps you make your exercise a regular, consistent part of your life.
Just a side note: I’m finally back to my 5 a.m. workouts and it works well for me. I fall asleep before the news starts every night, but my workouts are great!