What's the best time of day to exercise?
07 May 2012, 11:40
Are you a night-owl exerciser or an early-bird? And does it make a
difference what time of the day you exercise? According to the experts
it depends on what your goal is.
Catherine Viljoen a registered biokineticist with Virgin Active,
says “The answer to what the best time of day for exercise will depend
greatly upon your individual exercise goals and commitment.”
Some research suggests that some of us may be naturally predisposed
morning people, while others reach their energy peak later in the day,
but the jury is still out as to whether results from exercising at a
specific time of the day differ though research in this field is
All in all Viljoen says the best exercise regime is
the one that can be maintained, so if it means that you’ll enjoy your
workout more and be able to commit to a plan if you choose a particular
time of day to exercise then stick with that.
Exercising in the morning
Many people believe that in order to burn more kilojoules and lose
weight you should exercise in the morning before breakfast, but Viljoen
says this remains a controversial topic.
“The argument in favour of fasted early morning aerobic exercise suggests
that when you work-out in the morning, your metabolism stays elevated
for a period of time after the workout is over. It also refers to lower
stores of glycogen, insulin and glucose in the body upon waking after an
overnight fast, which supposedly kicks your body into “fat-burning
mode”. The reality is, after fasting for about 12 hours your blood-sugar
levels are very low and this will influence how much exercise you can
do, how well your brain works and how tired you will feel during the
rest of the day.
“While we’re not suggesting a full English breakfast, it would be wise to enjoy a light snack before your morning exercise session to
up your blood-sugar levels and activate your brain. You will definitely
still gain the kilojoule-burning effects of the workout.”
The best exercises for the early-bird
Viljoen recommends walking as an early-morning exercise because of its
low impact nature and since it also incorporates natural movement and
stretching, lending itself to being a relatively safe option for the
She also recommends yoga and stretch classes as they allow you to
stretch your muscles for the day ahead and allow for more invigorating
workout later in the day.
However, she points out that there is no reason why you cannot do a strength training session, although it is recommended that you do this at a low intensity.
Exercising in the afternoon/evening
If you prefer to hit the gym after work however, there is research to
suggest that the optimal time to exercise is when your body temperature
is at its highest, which for most of us is between 4pm and 5pm. As a
result, strength and endurance training is generally better performed
during the afternoon and injuries are also less likely to occur at this
However, Vilojoen says that while afternoon exercise might be optimal
from a physiological standpoint, studies show that morning exercisers
are more likely to stick to their routine than people who work out in
“This can be attributed partly to the fact that people are more prone
to fatigue and find excuses not to exercise at the end of the working
The best exercises to do in the afternoon/evening
Most people appear to prefer strength training sessions in the
afternoon or evening rather than in the early morning, says Viljoen.
Similarly, co-ordination and reaction time have also been found to be at
the best in the afternoon compared to early mornings. But she warns
that if you exercise too close to bedtime, you could battle to fall
asleep so she advises you avoid high intensity exercise at least two to
three hours before bedtime.