On one level, the title of this article is a “trick question” in that there is no “right” answer. The “best” answer might be, “Whatever time works best for you to keep you exercising regularly, and enables you to stick with it and turn exercising into a habit.”
Each of us is an individual, and our own individual “body clocks” or circadian rhythms determine to some extent whether we’re at our best in the mornings or the evenings. Some of us wake up lithe and limber and “rarin’ to go” in the mornings, and others only limber up and feel ready to exercise later in the day. In addition, there are many pragmatic considerations to weigh, such as the demands of family, work, and the availability of partners to exercise with us. So in the following sections we’ll cover a few of the “pros and cons” of each of the major times of day as the “best” time to establish a regular routine for exercising, and allow you – the readers – to “do the math” and figure out which time might be best for you.
Exercising in the morning
There is a body of research that suggests that exercising in the morning is “best” – in the sense of “most effective” – because individuals who choose that time seem to be statistically most able to create an exercise routine and stick to it. Other considerations for morning exercise include:
• Many feel that exercising first thing in the morning enables them to “get it out of the way,” before the pressures and the responsibilities of the day have begun to intrude.
• Morning exercise “jump starts” the metabolism, helping us to burn more calories during the day.
• Exercise produces endorphins that help to create a positive start to the day.
• Because exercise improves brain functioning and our ability to concentrate, doing it in the mornings helps to prepare us for a busy day at work.
• However, in the mornings our energy levels are less than optimal, and our muscles are still stiff from sleep, which can lead to an increased risk of injuries.
• If you choose to exercise in the mornings, you should allow more time to stretch and warm up than you would later in the day.
Exercising at lunchtime
Most of the primary arguments for working out at lunchtime are practical and social in nature. You already have your lunch break scheduled, and you may be more able to find co-workers to join you while exercising. Other factors that affect lunchtime exercise include:
• Body temperature is higher and muscles are more relaxed than in the mornings.
• Exercising at lunchtime provides an often-needed break in one’s work day, and clears the mind so that you can be more productive in the afternoons.
• If you exercise at lunchtime, remember to eat lunch after you work out, not before. You should allow at least 90 minutes after a full meal before exercising, otherwise the blood that should be flowing to your muscles will be flowing instead to your digestive track.
• Another drawback of exercising on your lunch break may be that we have to work within fixed time limits, and cannot exercise as long as we might want to.
Exercising in the late afternoon or evening
Many researchers feel that from a physiological point of view exercising in the afternoon or early evening (after 6 pm) is most effective. They cite studies on lung function, temperature, hormone levels, and body rhythms to suggest that these factors are most conducive to exercise at these times. Other factors regarding evening exercise include:
• If you are constantly working to improve your athletic performance while exercising – run faster or longer, lift more weight, etc. – your body temperature and muscle strength is best suited to doing this in the late afternoons.
• Exercising after work allows us to clear our bodies of the stress of the day.
• An after-work exercise routine allows many people to relax more in the evenings.
• Afternoon or early-evening exercise tends to lower your appetite, and reduce the amount of food you feel like eating for dinner.
• Exercising in the late afternoon or evening can make it easier to fall asleep, and lead to deeper, more restful sleep.
• However, having to work overtime or deal with family situations may make it more difficult to keep to our exercise routines.
• Also, if you exercise at a gym, they are often most crowded at these times.
Consistency is the key
The time you set for your exercise routine that allows you to keep to your routine most consistently is really the “best,” despite any other considerations. Whether you’re a morning exerciser or an evening exerciser, if that time works for you and allows you to keep exercising regularly, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. “Best” is what works for you.