When to work out - Morning vs Afternoon
Some people swear by their 6am runs, others squeeze in a little HIIT session during their lunch break or skip after work drinks for a spinning class. But does it actually make a difference at what time you break a sweat? Science suggests that it may. Let’s get the run down on what it has to say.
Whether the thought of a pre-breakfast sprint session is making you all excited or not, getting your daily exercise in first thing in the morning may be beneficial for several reasons.
Best chance to build a routine
Researchers have shown that people who schedule their exercise at the same time each day are more likely to establish a routine and stick to their new habit. For busy working bees mornings may just be the ideal time for creating such a habit as the likelihood of anything (i.e. normal life) getting in the way of your workouts is at the lowest before breakfast.
Helps to resist temptations
Getting your heart rate up in the AM may also help you resist temptations during the day. A recent study published in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise has measured how women responded to food after exercising first thing the morning. The result: the participants were less distracted by crave-inducing food pictures during the day. On top of that, they were more likely to upper their physical activity more throughout the day.
If you prefer hitting the snooze button rather then tying your sport shoelaces in the mornings, don’t be discouraged. Afternoon workouts have their perks, too.
Improved muscular function
Studies determined that the optimal time to exercise is when your body temperature is as its highest. This is typically the case between 2pm and 6pm. A higher body temperature has the result of increased neural drive, which improves muscular coordination, flexibility and strength.
Lower risk of injury
Improved muscular coordination, strength, and flexibility taken together with a higher level of alertness that we experience in the afternoon hours also help to reduce the risk of any injury.
Consistency is key
So what is the best time to work out? Well, although scientists have differing opinions on the ideal time for exercise, they all agree on this: consistency is key. Research has shown that by continuously exercising at the same time each day you can in fact train your body to be ready to exercise at this particular time.
Reset the body clock
The body clock or the ‘circadian rhythm’ is governed by 24-hour pattern of the earth’s rotation. It influences sleep-wake cycles as well as other important body functions that are crucial for exercise such as blood pressure, body temperature, hormone levels and heart rate. Research by the University of North Texas found that although circadian rhythms are inborn, they can be reset by consistent behaviour.
Using an alarm clock, establishing meal times and even exercising are all cues to help reset circadian rhythms. The study showed that people who consistently exercised in the morning "taught" their body to be most ready for exercise at that time of day. When they switched to evening exercise, they didn't feel as strong.
Bottom line: find your own ideal time
The universal ‘ideal time’ to work out does not exist. The key to finding one’s own perfect moment to squeeze in these workouts is consistency. It is therefore important to find a time that works best for you – one that you will be able to stick to. Once you have established a routine your body will adapt to it and will be ready to exercise at the set time – whether it is in the morning or the afternoon.
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Weipeng Teo, Michael J. Newton and Michael R. McGuigan ‘Circadian rhythms in exercise performance: Implications for hormonal and muscular adaptation.’ Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2011) 10, 600-606. http://www.jssm.org/vol10/n4/1/v10n4-1pdf.pdf
David W. Hill , Kirk J. Cureton and Mitchell A. Collins ‘Circadian specificity in exercise training.’ Ergonomics (1989), 32:1, 79-92.
Wolff G, Esser KA. ‘Scheduled exercise phase shifts the circadian clock in skeletal muscle.’ Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (2012) Sep;44(9), 1663-70. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22460470
National Institute of General Medical Science, ‚Circadian Rhythms Fact Sheet’, November 2012, http://www.nigms.nih.gov/Education/Pages/Factsheet_CircadianRhythms.aspx