Prime Times to Exercise

To get or stay in shape, the best time to exercise is whenever you can do it consistently. But there also are ideal times to work out that can help you reach more specific goals, such as feeling more productive at work or getting a better night’s sleep.

If you’ve ever scored a coveted pair of shoes at the sale price or cashed in a stock just before the price took a dive, you know the difference good timing can make in your quality of life. So it goes with physical activity.

“Exercising at specific times of the day can help you feel more alert or more relaxed,” says Matthew Edlund, M.D., author of The Body Clock Advantage. “Get your timing right and exercise can also improve your sleep or help you lose weight.”

Of course, your exercise time can depend on everything from your work schedule to when your kids get up or go to bed. But if you have any flexibility in your routine, Dr. Edlund suggests these targeted times for fitness, which vary depending on what you want to accomplish.

Morning, noon

The best time to exercise if you want to be more productive is in the morning or at lunchtime. Exercising before work can make you feel invigorated from the very start of the day (without caffeine) and ready to tackle major tasks from the get-go.

“We wake up with a cold brain. It takes most people about two hours each morning to feel fully alert,” says Dr. Edlund.

By exercising in the morning, you’ll get to that level of alertness faster.

“It’s as simple as the fact that exercise increases body temperature and blood flow to the brain,” he says.

Morning exercise is especially eye-opening if you’re a night owl or you’re sleep-deprived, though it probably won’t be what you feel like doing.

Early afternoon

Noon to 2 p.m. is another top time slot for physical activity. “When you exercise at lunch, you won’t get that common afternoon dip in alertness, and your overall productivity at work is likely to increase,” says Dr. Edlund.

It doesn’t take much to activate your afternoon and diffuse mounting fatigue. Just 30 minutes of some kind of exercise at lunch, such as walking, is probably enough.

After meals

If you want to lose weight, the best time to exercise is after you eat. After a meal, you won’t be in any shape for a major workout, but it’s a good time to walk for 10 to 15 minutes.

“Try footing it back to your office after lunch rather than driving, or take a stroll with your family every night after dinner,” says Dr. Edlund.

Post-meal activity aids digestion and prevents the surge in glucose and insulin levels that can coax excess calories to be stored as fat rather than burned as fuel, he says. It also gives you a psychological incentive to keep tabs on portion sizes. “You may be less likely to overeat because you know if you do, you won’t feel like walking,” he says.

After work

The best time to exercise if you want to relax or sleep better is at the end of your workday. Exercising three to five hours before bedtime will help you relax and sleep better.

It’s one of the best ways to unwind and physically discharge any tension that may have built up during the day. It also creates a physiological separation between your workday and your evening.

And certainly, exercising at that time of day is better than sitting in front of the TV.

“It’s typical to use mental fatigue as a reason to veg out,” says Dr. Edlund. “But to up your energy level, it’s more effective to combat mental fatigue with physical activity, and early evening is the perfect time to do it.”

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