By Dr Kenneth Gardner
Many of us exercise first thing in the morning, while others exercise later in the day. Some of us jog at six in the morning to get psyched up for the day's activities, while others go for a walk after dinner to get a good night's sleep. Thus, I am not surprised that I am often asked, 'When is the best time to exercise?'
Research shows the best time to exercise is when our body temperature is at its highest. Body temperature influences our body's functions such as blood pressure, hormone levels, heart rate, alertness and metabolic functions all of which are critical to our body's readiness for exercise.
The time of day we exercise can influence how you feel when exercising. The ideal time to exercise should also be guided by our goals for pursuing the programme. It should be done at a time that we can stick with consistently and make it part of our daily or weekly routine so that it becomes incorporated into our lifestyle.
Same time each day
We can figure out when it is best for us to exercise by exercising at different times of the day, such as early morning, later in the day, afternoon, or in the evening, for a few weeks. We can then schedule our sessions for the same time each day to make it a habit. It is prudent not to exercise immediately after eating, especially after a large meal.
Research shows that most persons who exercise consistently do so early in the day, and this is attributed to having fewer distractions and schedule interruptions at that time. Some of the benefits to exercising early in the day are increased metabolism and increased energy levels and feeling energised for hours. Persons have also attested to improved mental alertness for hours.
Lower temperatures earlier in the day will also make more comfortable for one to exercise. However, a major drawback with exercising in the morning is that our lower body temperature will require much more effort and care to prepare our body for the exercise because cold, stiff muscles take a longer time to warm up, and they are more susceptible to injury.
By midday, our body temperature and hormone levels are higher than early morning, thus our ability to perform activities that require greater strength and endurance can be performed more easily during the midday to afternoon session. Injuries are less likely to occur in the afternoons because our body is most alert when it is warm and flexible and our muscle strengths are at their greatest.
However, deciding when is the best time to exercise is not only about the time of day. The time that will work best with your schedule, with the least distractions and interruptions, is the best time to exercise.
Dr Kenneth Gardner is an exercise physiologist at Holiday Hills Research Center; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.