The answer to this question couldn’t be simpler: Whenever you’ll most consistently do it.
Let’s face it, if I told you that the best time to exercise is 4 a.m. (not true, by the way), 99% of people would ignore me and move on. And, the truth is, there is no universally “correct” answer. That’s why the real-world, practical answer to this important question is a bit more complex.
The best time to exercise is truly personal and depends on your goals, lifestyle, values, daily routine, family and work responsibilities – and countless other factors.
So, let me reframe the question. When will you most consistently exercise? That’s what each of us is challenged to figure out in order to live a healthy lifestyle. Be mindful of the fact that very few people can find the time to be physically active. Those who are successful over the long haul make the time to work out.
Making a Workout Schedule
When establishing a workout schedule, personal preference is not the only factor. For example, if you’re attending group exercise sessions at a fitness facility, your options are limited to the times your preferred classes are offered. If you’re starting a neighborhood walking program, finding the right time will have to be a group decision.
Traffic and weather are important considerations as well, since you might not want to schedule your daily bike ride during the evening rush hour, and you might want to avoid hiking during the cold morning hours in winter or at peak sun during the summer.
Some people find that starting their days with exercise allows them to be more consistent and establish a reliable routine, since the events of the day haven’t yet conspired to derail them. They also tout the energy boost and improved mood they feel as they start their days, and often report that early exercise sets the tone for them to make healthier choices all day long.
Many people also feel more productive and less stressed if they start their day with a workout. In addition, exercising in the morning and on an empty stomach is believed by some, despite mixed evidence, to be the best way to burn stored fat and lose weight.
The major disadvantage of morning workouts is obvious: You have to get out of bed earlier if the rest of your daily schedule is going to stay the same. Many beginners get caught up in the excitement and high levels of motivation they feel and will enthusiastically declare, “I’m going to wake up at 6 o’clock and hit the gym before work five days a week!”
While that’s a great plan if it matches your personality and schedule, take a step back and be honest with yourself about how long that’s sustainable. If it may not be, try just waking up early one or two days a week to see how it goes. You may find that your body clock quickly adjusts, making those early-morning alarms easier to manage as the weeks pass.
A lunchtime or mid-afternoon workout can be a great way to break up the workday. It can provide a much-needed energy boost and mental health break, leaving you more productive toward the end of the workday. Even a quick walk may be enough to drive these benefits.
One potential downside to afternoon workouts is limited time. Sneaking away from the office to squeeze in some exercise in the middle of the workday can be a little challenging. Even if you can free up the time (the best strategy is to put it in your calendar and treat it like you would a meeting or appointment), you may have to cut workouts short in order to allow time for showering and changing your clothes before returning to work.
Also, meal planning can be a little tricky if your afternoon workout is around lunchtime. It may take some trial and error to determine if working out before or after lunch is best for you.
A late-day workout is most convenient for many people and can be an effective stress-reliever after a long day of work – if you have the energy to exercise and don’t allow fatigue to keep you from following through on your fitness goals.
Gyms typically offer plenty of after-work classes, and it may be easier to find a workout partner who is free in the evening than one who is up for a 6 a.m. gym meet-up. One other important benefit of evening workouts is that time spent exercising often replaces less healthy activities like watching TV or playing on your phone.
In addition, willpower wanes over the course of the day for most people, which is why it can be more difficult to hit the gym in the evening – even when you wake in the morning with the best of intentions. Paying for a class or committing to a friend can make it easier to follow through.
The Best Exercise Time
The benefits of physical activity are largely reliant on consistency. The science may tell you that exercising at a particular point in the day is most effective, but that doesn’t mean much if you’re unlikely to regularly work out at that time of day. So, consider all of the factors, be honest with yourself, find a partner if you can and get started. Now is as good a time as any!