The Best Time of Day to Walk and Exercise

Women Walking with Water Bottles in Hand
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Is there a best time of day to walk? Research on lung function, body rhythms, temperature, and hormone levels says one thing—to exercise around 6 p.m. But exercise in the morning has benefits for improving your metabolism for the rest of the day and ensuring you actually find the time to exercise before the day gets too busy. Explore the pros and cons of when to exercise.

Morning Exercise

There are many benefits to getting in your walks or workouts in the morning.

Pros:

  • The majority of people who exercise consistently do so early in the day. It is easier to form the exercise habit through morning exercise.
  • A study found reduced attraction to photos of food after a 45-minute brisk morning walk, and more activity throughout the rest of the day.
  • Studies have found that morning aerobic exercise improves endurance capacity as compared with evening aerobic exercise. These studies also found that exercise raises your heart rate and metabolism to burn more calories earlier in the day.
  • There are fewer distractions and schedule interruptions first thing in the morning.
  • You can make time for exercise by getting up a bit earlier.
  • Exercise gives a feeling of physical energy for hours.
  • Morning exercise improves your mental acuity for hours.
  • There are cooler temperatures in summer for enjoying outdoor exercise, compared with later in the day.
  • The lowest air pollution levels are in the morning.
  • Your body adjusts to your exercise time, so if you are training for a morning walking event, train in the morning.

Cons:

  • Body temperature is at its lowest one to three hours before awakening, making the morning a time of naturally lower energy and blood flow.
  • Cold, stiff muscles may be more prone to injury. Be sure to warm up well before doing a higher speed workout, and do gentle stretching.
  • If you do not enjoy morning exercise, you won't easily form a walking habit by choosing a morning workout time.
  • Because body temperature and hormones are higher late in the afternoon, you probably get the same or better calorie-burning effects later in the day.

Noon and Break Time Exercise

If you have a sedentary job, it can do your body a lot of good to break up the work day with exercise.

Pros:

  • You can make a habit to walk and exercise at lunch and break time.
  • You can use a walking and exercise partner at work, school, or in your neighborhood.
  • Body temperature and hormone levels are higher than they were first thing in the morning.
  • Exercise can help regulate the amount of food you feel like eating for lunch and help you avoid break-time snacking.
  • A brisk walk improves blood flow to the brain so you are sharper in the afternoon.
  • A walk or exercise provides stress relief from work, school, or home stresses.

Cons:

  • Time constraints may not allow you to get in a full workout. Any amount is good, but best if you can walk 30 to 60 minutes or more at a stretch.
  • You may not be able to consistently break away from work, school, or family commitments during the day.
  • Research shows that lung function is worst at noon. For an easy walk, you may not notice the difference. But for a vigorous workout or for those with lung problems, the 15 percent to 20 percent difference may be felt.

    Afternoon Walking and Exercise

    Research shows that afternoon (3 p.m. to 7 p.m.) is the best time to exercise for both performance and for building muscle.

    Pros:

    • For most people, body temperature and hormone levels peak at 6 p.m. Exercising three hours before or after the peak will give you your best workout for both effort and building muscle.
    • Research shows lung function is best at 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
    • Muscles are warm and flexible.
    • The afternoon is when you have the lowest perceived exertion of the day: You can exert yourself more while feeling it less, so you may be able to work out harder or faster in the afternoon.
    • Afternoon exercise can help regulate the amount of food you feel like eating for dinner.
    • You can exercise for stress relief after a day at work, school, or home.

    Cons:

    • You may find that things keep coming up that force you to work late or tempt you to socialize rather than exercise.
    • If you use the gym for exercise or equipment such as the treadmill, it may be crowded and hard to get the workout you want.

    Evening Walking and Exercise

    You may be able to schedule your exercise sessions for the evening hours.

    Pros:

    • You are in the peak period for body temperature and hormones.
    • Muscles are warm and flexible.
    • Perceived exertion is low. You may be able to work out harder or faster.
    • Evening exercise can help regulate the amount of food you feel like eating for dinner.
    • Stress relief after a day at work, school, or home.

    Cons:

    • A full day's worth of new crises and distractions can keep you from getting a consistent workout.
    • You need to allow one to three hours to wind down after walking or exercise to be able to fall asleep. If you discover sleeping problems, you need to schedule your workout earlier.
    • At dark times of the year, be sure to wear reflective gear when walking outdoors.

    The Very Best Time to Walk and Exercise

    The very best time to walk? Walking can only do you good if you do it. The best time to walk is the time that will fit best into your schedule so you can do it consistently. Experts agree—it is not the time of day that matters as much as finding the time you can set aside consistently for your workouts.

    Sources:

    Hanlon B, Larson MJ, Bailey BW, Lecheminant JD. Neural Response to Pictures of Food after Exercise in Normal-Weight and Obese WomenMed Sci Sports Exerc. 2012 May 22. [Epub ahead of print]

    Seo DY, Lee S, Kim N, et al. Morning and evening exercise. Integrative Medicine Research. 2013;2(4):139-144. doi:10.1016/j.imr.2013.10.003. 

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