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When Is the Best Time to Exercise? We Asked Experts

Your best friend seems to wake up with the sun easily—no coffee required—and run a cool four miles before your alarm clock sounds off. Your other close pal somehow excels at the office from 9 to 5, makes it to a boxing class, and has the energy to whip up dinner for the kiddos. Maybe you’re somewhere in between, or your mood changes throughout the week. Is there really a “best” time to exercise—and does when you workout really matter, as long as you’re getting in some movement?

There’s a Lot of Conflicting Research

Here’s the deal: Some studies suggest that, from a physiological standpoint, you’ll reap the most benefits from working up a sweat in the midday to the afternoon. Other research says the early morning is the optimal time for a workout—but those studies were ultimately found inclusive and only analyzed women and mice as subjects. Yet additional research illustrated a symbiotic relationship between exercise and sleep, suggesting again that evening fitness may be the best choice. 

Since so much conflicting information exists around when the best time to exercise is, it’s difficult to justify forcing yourself to become a morning workout person—or to drink coffee in the afternoon to make it through an evening class (definitely not the best option for your sleep!). 

We turned to exercise experts, who unanimously agreed: The best time to exercise really depends on the person.

There Isn’t One “Best” Time to Exercise That Applies to Everyone

The ‘best’ time to workout will always be when you, personally, can actually work out reliably and regularly, as physiologist Kristen Richers puts it. “When it comes to seeing results in the gym, consistency is the name of the game,” she says. “You’re more likely to show up for and stick to whatever feels best in the long run, and life is too short to spend time hating your workouts.”

Can’t figure out the timing that produces consistency—and thus progress and longevity? Here, fitness experts share advice on how to find the best time of day to exercise for your lifestyle, preferences, and health goals.

Experts agree: The best time to exercise is any time you can do it regularly and realistically—and depends on the individual.

How to Find the Best Time to Exercise for You

Adjust your workout time to where you are in life right now.

Our priorities constantly change as we grow from our 20s and 30s to our 40s and beyond. While work and travel might have been top of mind when you were fresh out of college, now, you may feel like you’re constantly balancing the demands of your family, children, career, and health. As you think about when the best time to exercise might be for you right now, Richers suggests scheduling your workouts based on those priorities at any given time. And remember, this might look different on Tuesday than on Thursday. 

For example, if you have a job and/or family requiring your attention during or after work, can you make a noon fitness slot work? “Some working parents find that their employers can give them the flexibility to workout during the day, which enables them to spend mornings and evenings with their families,” she says. “Others need to communicate within the family to share responsibilities so that one parent can workout in the morning and the other can workout in the evening.”

Determine your goals.

According to Mike Moreno, NSCA-CPT, personal trainer and fitness manager at Chuze Fitness Arizona, having a target to shoot for greatly impacts the direction of your workout routine. Likewise, it can also influence the time of day you choose to sweat. 

If you’ve been doing the same type of workouts for months without seeing any of the changes or improvements you’re hoping for, your goal might be to break through a plateau. For example, he says that working out in the afternoon or early evening is slightly more beneficial for metabolic health and performance. “Your body’s core temperature is typically warmer in the evening, and your strength and endurance can be higher when compared to morning workouts,” he adds.

Maybe you’re satisfied with your fitness progression, but your diet is causing you trouble, and you’re seeking impactful ways to improve your eating habits. “Working out—or not working out—can directly affect the choices of food we eat following exercise,” Moreno says. “If you want fitness to guide your diet, then working out in the morning or at lunchtime may be best for you as it can encourage healthy food choices.”

Don’t fight your body’s natural rhythms.

Take a second and be honest with yourself: Do you dread the morning or find it bearable, or do you find it enjoyable wake up full of energy? Do you find a sudden burst of energy in the afternoons after a day of sitting at a desk? It doesn’t matter if you’re Team A.M. or P.M. (or somewhere in between). Instead, it matters if you listen to your body’s natural rhythms and intuitions instead of fighting them. 

“If you’re not a morning person and you struggle to get up early, let go of the expectations on yourself and work out at night,” Richers says. “If you’re the sort of person whose brain starts to shut down around 3 p.m., and you just want to chill after work, then you may need to hold yourself accountable to working out in the morning.”

Start super small and focus on consistency.

For those who don’t have a solid workout routine, it can feel daunting and intimidating to get started. All too often, newbies attempt to go full-throttle from day one, then quickly get discouraged and lose motivation. That’s why starting small is more important than going big straight out of the gate (besides avoiding injury!). You don’t have to work out for hours each day, and you’ll actually enjoy yourself more if you set achievable goals that work for your schedule, says Janet Omstead, a certified precision nutritionist and master health coach. 

If you’re unsure where to begin, she recommends focusing on one thing and making it something you try every day for a week, then a month, and then a year, preferably around the same time every day to help your brain and body recognize it as a habit. Maybe it’s walking for twenty minutes, lifting weights for 15 minutes, or running one, single mile. Over time, your body will get used to the movement, and it’ll become second nature. To keep yourself motivated by your progress, she suggests keeping a journal (old school or on your phone) to record your exercise. You may be surprised looking back!

Find like-minded exercisers.

Though some people prefer to work up a sweat in their home gym listening to their playlist or podcast without anyone around them—others thrive off of community. And for some people, exercise and play are most fun when connecting with others. “Creating a community keeps people going back,” Omstead says. “You have a sense of belonging.” 

Reach out to your friend group or find workout classes in your area that offer meaningful ways to connect. Through these groups, you can likely find an accountability buddy (or two) who will be there for you along your fitness journey. Sometimes, you need someone else to rise at dawn or text you to work out in the evening to keep you on track. 

“Whether indoors or outside, when you find what types of play you love, and can find others with similar interests and create a community that focuses on movement,” Omstead says. “Spending time with others makes you happier and healthier.”

Prioritize sleep over everything.

Ryan Kennedy, a NASM-certified trainer

“Do not regularly sacrifice sleep for exercise.”

— Ryan Kennedy, a NASM-certified trainer

Believe it or not, good sleeping hygiene (read: sleep habits and routines) is more important than a good exercise routine, according to Ryan Kennedy, a NASM-certified trainer and the fitness director of FIELDHOUSE at The Park. When planning your schedule, ensure you always get seven  to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep each night

“Different people naturally have different sleep chronotypes,” Kennedy explains. “Some individuals are early risers and like to exert themselves at the beginning of each day, while others are night owls and prefer to exercise after work. Either way, do not regularly sacrifice sleep for exercise.” 

The truth is, if you aren’t well rested, it doesn’t matter if you’re a morning or evening fitness-goer since you won’t have enough energy to make it through a jog or a deadlift.

Be flexible and realistic.

Though you may ultimately decide mornings are the best time for your fitness routine, each day and week throws curveballs and challenges, so it’s essential to be flexible and realistic, Moreno says. “Set yourself up for success by being realistic with life’s demands,” he says. “Chances are, if you are simply consistent, you will experience the many benefits of health and fitness. The quality and consistency of your workout journey are most important.”

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