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Does it really matter what time of day you exercise?

Exercising can be exhausting. Something even more so can be finding the time of day to do it, however. We’re busy with work, chores, and expectations. We know we should do it, and probably more often than we do right now. There’s barely time to get done what absolutely needs to in order to meet our basic needs. Working out more is extremely hard when a block of time each day to pump iron and run on the treadmill can’t be found. This begs the question: Does it really matter what time of day you exercise? Is there an ideal gym schedule? While there are several theories floating around, there’s no real definite answer, though several factors that can go into how you yourself can answer it for your own needs.

Woman doing an early-morning workout

Rising with the sun

Some people are of the opinion that working out first thing in the morning is the best way to exercise. They have several valid reasons to feel that way, and some experts agree this is the best way to quickly burn fat. Getting up early and hitting the gym before breakfast helps kick your body into high gear, thus burning it faster. This is referred to as fasted exercise. This forces your body to burn energy from your fat storage, instead of burning off the energy you recently consumed.

In addition to burning fat and calories more quickly, rising early to work out can set the tone of the day. By working out shortly after rising, you set yourself up for a more productive and successful day — and experience a sense of accomplishment. Think of it in the sense of a chain reaction. Busting your butt at the gym is the first link in the chain. Then, all your other tasks and responsibilities fall in line. When you work out first thing and experience those “feel-good” hormones, you go into the rest of your day feeling accomplished and confident. People often mention feeling better prepared to face their day after hitting the gym and burning stagnant energy. It also feels good to check something off what can often seem like a laundry list of responsibilities early in the day. Checking that box feels great, knowing you have one less thing to do that day.

Fighting that mid-day crash

Have you ever been sitting at your desk and felt like all you wanted to do was put your head down on it and go to sleep? That can often happen after eating a meal or putting in long hours at work. While some folks hit up the coffee pot for fresh caffeine or crack open an energy drink to get them through the day, others grab their gym bags and hit the pads for a quick mid-afternoon burn session. Often smaller and more intense workout routines are more efficient at burning fat and calories than longer ones.

Because of this, some people can squeeze in a workout during their lunch breaks to stave off those mid-afternoon crashes and keep them energized and focused on their work. These types of workouts could be good for folks who need the extra bump of energy to carry them through a busy evening at home. Dinner, sports and extra curriculars, late meetings, or deadlines can keep us busy well into the evening hours. When you’ve worked out mid-afternoon, not only have you given yourself the drive to get through the day, but you’ve also checked off that box on your list of things to do. You’ve accomplished something, getting those “feel-good” hormones again. This reinforces your desires for wanting to experience those hormones and in turn, the accomplishment that goes along. You see that chain reaction event happening again? Funny how that works out.

Woman running on a tree-lined path
Philip Ackermann/Pexels

Late-night gym crawls

Then there are those night owls who go into the gym quiet and passionate. They are looking for the most effective workout without all the stresses or pressure from a full-capacity building. Quieter gyms can seem a bit more peaceful, and late-night visits can allow for more use of the equipment. It’s simply because there are less people packed in there. You may find yourself able to increase your workout routines or tone more muscles just because those machines and equipment are available when they usually are not.

Others like to hit the gym later in the day to help them wind down for the evening. Expelling the last bit of their energy helps them settle down and count sheep. Ending the day at the gym can feel like you’re closing the chapter of a book. After the workout, you can quiet your body and your mind for the next day’s tasks. Again, the “feel-good” hormones come into play, this time giving the sense of accomplishing a full day’s list.

Final thoughts

What it all comes down to is: There is no absolute, scientific proof that one time of day to exercise is better than another. There are studies and theories that declare a winner, but the really important thing to take away from this is, just get yourself moving. Go to the gym, take a walk, ride your bike, or tackle some yard work and burn off that extra energy and maybe some stored fat if you need to. Make it work for you, for your schedule, and your needs.

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