Morning, noon or night—when it comes to exercise, the right time is whatever time works for you. That means finding a time that fits into your schedule and that you're likely to stick to.
"It's more a matter of commitment than it is time of day," says Tom LaFontaine, PhD, a registered clinical exercise physiologist with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
The first move
If you're trying to find a place for fitness in your life, you may want to consider these factors:
- Setting a schedule can help you stick to your program, says Dr. LaFontaine. You may even want to write out a full week's worth of exercise "appointments," he says. This type of scheduling can be especially helpful if you're just getting started with exercise.
- Research shows that people who exercise in the morning are more likely to make it a habit. "If you can get your workout in early, there are [fewer] distractions," says Dr. LaFontaine.
- Though a schedule can help, it's also important to be flexible. If your morning plans change for some reason, exercise at the end of the day instead, says Allan Goldfarb, PhD, a fellow of the ACSM.
- If your workout routine is wearing you down, or if you don't seem to have much energy at the time of day you're exercising, you may want to consider your circadian rhythms. These cycles regulate your body temperature, metabolism and blood pressure throughout each day.
For most people, muscles are warmer and more flexible in the late afternoon, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). This can lead to quicker reaction times, greater strength, more power and lower perceived exertion.
- If you're training for an upcoming event, such as a race, you may want to try exercising at the same time of day as the upcoming event.
- Think about when you eat. If you want to exercise in the middle of the day, don't let breakfast be the last thing you've eaten. Have a little snack two hours before your workout, suggests Dr. Goldfarb.
You probably don't want to exercise right after a meal, either. Your body sends blood to your digestive tract to help with digestion after a meal, says Cedric Bryant, PhD, Chief Science Officer at ACE. This leaves less blood to nourish the muscles you use during exercise.
- You may have heard that morning exercise can increase the risk of heart attack. While most fatal heart attacks do happen between 6 a.m. and noon, regular exercise at any time of day reduces your overall risk of heart attack, Dr. Bryant says.
If morning exercise works best for you, pay extra attention to warming up and stretching before your workout, says ACE. This helps ensure that your body will be ready for action.
If exercise is a new part of your life, start slowly. According to ACE, a good place to start is just 10 minutes of light exercise or brisk walking every day. Gradually increase the length and intensity of your workouts.
Your doctor can help you set goals for how often and how hard you exercise. For many people, 150 minutes of exercise spread out during each week is enough to provide substantial health benefits.
If you've been inactive for a long time or if you're pregnant, elderly or have any health problems, check with your doctor before you start an exercise program.