When is the best time to exercise?

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when is the best time to exerciseThis question, “When is the best time to exercise,” is one that I think a lot of people ask. As with most things I talk about, the short answer is, “It depends.” There are a lot of things to consider, including your life situation and personality. Let’s break it down and look at this question from a couple different angles.

I have no time to exercise, when could I possibly fit it in?

Last week’s article goes through how to start being active, so if you haven’t see it yet, you may want to do so. There’s two main strategies to get around a lack of time.

  1. Consider your goals. Do you want to be an athlete or do you want to be active?
    If you want to be an athlete, you need to find the time, and cut back somewhere else. That’s the sacrifice you’re signing up for. If you want to be active and healthy (but not an athlete), see #2
  2. Look for little pockets of time that you could incorporate movement. Even 30 seconds here and there can add up over a day.

the best time to exercsie is the time that you will exercise

Is it better to exercise in the morning or the evening?

Okay let’s get into the meat of why you are reading this article. I said that the short answer was “it depends”. The slightly longer answer is “it depends on which you can do consistently”. There are different advantages to working out in the morning versus the evening. We’ll get into that in just a moment, but those advantages mean nothing if you don’t actually do the exercise.

Whatever type of exercise and whenever you’ll actually be able to do the exercise is the best. Here are a few questions to get you thinking.

  • Do you have a pocket of time that you can dedicate to exercise?
  • Can you work exercise into your current routines?
  • Can you wake up a little earlier to exercise in the morning (and can you go to bed a little earlier at night)?
  • Can you stop by a gym on your way to work?
  • Is it possible to walk or bike to and from work?
  • Do you have time to do a short (lighter) workout at lunch?
  • Could you go for a walk on your coffee breaks?
  • Can you fit in a couple body weight exercises between tasks through your day?
  • Could you workout while watching your shows in the evening?
  • Do you have a fairly consistent schedule (like a 9-5 Monday to Friday work schedule)? Or is it more erratic (shift-work, parenting or care-giving roles, traveling)? In first case, you’ll be able to have a consistent routine and build in exercise. In the second case your routine will have to be flexible enough to work with your schedule. I talk all about routines in this article.

routines are your friend to find the best time to exercise

Benefits to exercising in the morning

  • The day hasn’t happened yet, so it’s less likely that things will come up and stop you from doing your exercise. In other words, you’re more likely to be able to dictate how you spend your time. If you’re anything like me, you’re more consistent with your morning routine.
  • You might have more energy and so you’re more likely to actually exercise – especially if you are a morning person. As a side note, being a morning person is mostly determined by your genetics. BUT given how underrated sleep is, you might be a morning person, you just don’t know it because you aren’t getting enough sleep.
  • When you start your day with some movement it can improve your energy, your focus, and your productivity throughout the day. I know it does for me. It gives me a sense of momentum as I get my day started and makes it feel easier to get to work.
  • Improved sleep. No matter what time you are active, there is evidence to say that it will improve your sleep.

exercisng in the morning might be even better than coffee or tea

Benefits to exercising in the evening

Specifically, we’re talking about exercising in the late afternoon/early evening (about 3pm to about 8pm)

  • Improved sleep. No matter what time you are active, there is evidence to say that it will improve your sleep.
  • Depending on the flow of your day, it could be easiest to be consistent in the afternoon or evening. If you work a standard day and finish work at 4 or 5, you might find that it is easiest for you to exercise when you stop at the gym on your way home.
  • Your body is warmed up and hydrated. This is especially important if you are wanting to do higher intensity exercise or training. I found a research article looked into the difference in performance between a morning training session and an afternoon training session1. The conclusion is that the athletes performed better when they trained in the afternoon compared to morning sessions. This was especially true if they were waking up earlier than normal to train in the morning. Of course, this isn’t a major factor for someone like myself who is doing lower intensity exercise or is trying to be active for the health benefits. But if you do want to get faster or stronger, it might be worth finding a way to train in the afternoon or early evening.
  • Exercising after work gives you a chance to decompress from your day (and work off any frustrations you might be feeling while you’re at it).

exercising in the afternoon gives you a reset on the day

What happens if I exercise right before bed?

This can be a tricky time to exercise. Some people are able to without too much difficulty sleeping. But this article suggests you may even sleep better. Study participants exercised 1.5 hours before bed. The people who had a higher rating of perceived exertion actually slept better. But I know for myself that high intensity exercise makes me more alert, even if I’m tired. Which is not exactly conducive to good sleep.

If you’re like me, some kinds of exercise could still be very effective right before bed. Lower intensity, mindful exercise, such as walking, yoga, tai chi, or even a few body weight exercises, can help you feel more relaxed and ease you into sleep. This would be especially true if this was part of your bedtime routine and you did it in a quiet room with soft lighting. Your mind would start to associate this activity with bedtime.

And if this is the only consistent time you have to be active, it is worth figuring out how to make it work for you.

If you’re trying to figure this out, you could run an experiment on yourself. Try different kinds and different intensities of exercise and see how it affects your sleep. If you’re going to do this, keep a journal to keep track of your personal results. You’ll want to track:

  • what you tried – type, time, intensity, duration 2
  • when you went to bed,
  • how long it felt like it took you to fall asleep,
  • if you woke up in the night and had trouble falling back asleep,
  • how rested you felt in the morning on a scale from 1-10.

keep a journal to track how your exercise routine is working out for you


We’ve talked about a few reasons why a person might prefer to exercise in the morning, afternoon, evening, or just before bed. At the end of the day, what matters is that you move. It is one of the foundations for the good life, because it is so important to both our mental and physical health. And besides, our bodies tend to feel a lot better when we move in ways that we enjoy throughout the day.

Let me know, when do you move?

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  1. If you don’t mind wading through the academic language, go ahead and take a look at it
  2. I get into what this means in my first article on exercise and movement.

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