When is the Best Time to Exercise?

Woman Jogging

Whether you choose to exercise in the morning or evening, regular physical activity is essential for health and wellbeing. Working out burns body fat, builds muscle mass, and strengthens bones. Exercise is good for the heart, and for the immune system. Physical exercise also reduces stress and stimulates the production of feel-good hormones that enhance personal confidence. People who exercise regularly tend to sleep better and (here's the most important bottom line) live longer.

How Much Exercise Do We Need?

To an extent, this depends on age and build, but broadly speaking experts say that we should aim for between two and a half to five hours per week of moderate physical activity. A brisk walk counts as moderate exercise, so something as simple as parking a bit further from work or getting off the bus at an earlier stop could go a long way towards meeting your weekly target.

If time is an issue you might prefer to aim for around one and a half to two hours of high-intensity aerobic activity weekly. Swimming, running or a vigorous workout at the gym are all examples of high-intensity exercise. Many people choose to mix moderate and intense forms of exercise.

Does It Matter When We Exercise?

Morning, noon, afternoon or evening? When you're starting out consistency is key, so the best answer to the question of 'when is the best time of day to exercise?' is whatever time of day you're most likely to stick to! Having said that, there are pros and cons to exercising at different times of day.

Woman Jogging holding bottle of water

Morning Exercise

There are lots of benefits to starting the day with a vigorous workout. This is the best time to burn body fat, especially if you can bear to go for that early morning run even before you break your fast.

Research suggests that people who start a regular routine of morning workouts are more likely to stick to their plans. This may be because they're less likely to get distracted by unexpected events and demands on time that can crop up during the course of the day. It also appears that people who exercise in the morning may feel less hungry during the day and make healthier eating choices.

So is it better to exercise in the morning? Other things being equal, it probably is, but if you're just not a morning person and the thought of working out before noon makes your heart sink...forget it! Pick a time of day that works better for you and which you're more likely to stick to.

Woman Exercising at beach

Noontime or Afternoon Exercise

A lunchtime or after work class is ideal if you know that having other people around you will either trigger your competitive urge or provide you with support from like-minded friends who want to develop a healthier lifestyle. Other benefits to exercising later in the day are that blood sugar levels are higher, making it easier to sustain a high level of physical activity, and because muscles and joints have had time to fully warm up and loosen there's less risk of injury.

Man Jogging at night
Evening Exercise

In the past, evening exercise was discouraged on the basis that it might disrupt the body clock, increase core temperature and generally makes people feel more awake and stimulated. All of this has the potential to disrupt sleep.

Recent research suggests that evening exercise may have some benefits after all. Exercising around an hour and a half before retiring may result in falling asleep more easily and in a more positive emotional state, which could translate to more restful sleep. If you want to try this for yourself it's probably better to choose something like yoga, which is associated with stress-relief rather than a forty-minute session on the treadmill.

Muesly and Yoghurt

Exercise and Eating

One question that often comes up is whether the best time to exercise is before or after eating. There are a couple of different factors to take into account:

It's never good to exercise immediately after a meal - Your digestive system needs a good supply of blood to function properly, and working out will direct blood away from the gut to the muscles. Exercise immediately a meal and you'll most likely give yourself indigestion.

If you're exercising as part of a weight loss program - Early morning exercise taken before you eat may encourage your body to burn fat, as your blood sugar is lower. There's also some evidence that evening workouts can help with weight loss or maintenance as over time it may reduce levels of the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin.

If your aim is to increase muscle mass - Afternoon exercise may be the best for you. After you've had breakfast and lunch, though of course not straight after. Your blood sugar will be higher which will give you the endurance you need to work at a higher intensity.

The Benefits of Little and Often

One thing that sometimes puts people off starting a physical fitness program is the idea that they just don't have the time. What's the point of worrying about when is the best time to exercise when you can't see how you'd possibly fit in forty minutes at the gym into an already crowded schedule!

If this is your problem you might like to know about the Activ5 portable fitness device and app. This is based on the principals of isometric exercise and offers all the physical benefits of going to the gym, without having to go to the gym! You don't need expensive equipment or large chunks of time. You can choose exercises geared towards weight loss, increasing muscle size or boosting strength. The best part is that the individual workouts only take around five minutes, and can be performed anywhere. You can use Activ5 at home, in the office or even on the train! Five hours week might sound unachievable, but fine minutes at a time, three times a day certainly isn't!

Lynda Ishida My job is to write but my hobby is to research the latest tech innovations, especially for health & wellness.