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.

Surveys on exercise habits say another -- to exercise in the morning before other commitments distract you, or during the day when you have a free period of time. Let's explore the pros and cons of when to exercise.

Is Morning the Best Time to Exercise?

Pros of Morning Exercise:

  • 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.
  • Fewer distractions and schedule interruptions.
  • You can make time for exercise by getting up a bit earlier.
  • Raises your heart rate and metabolism to burn more calories earlier in the day.
  • Gives a feeling of physical energy for hours.
  • Morning exercise improves your mental acuity for hours.
  • Cooler temperatures in summer for enjoying outdoor exercise, compared with later in the day.
  • Lowest air pollution levels 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 of Morning Exercise:

  • Body temperature is at its lowest 1 to 3 hours before awakening, making 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 Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Can make a habit to walk and exercise at lunch and break time.
  • Can use a walking and exercise partner at work, school, or in your neighborhood.
  • Body temperature and hormone levels are higher than first thing in the morning.
  • Can help regulate the amount of food you feel like eating for lunch, and help you avoid break-time snacking.
  • Improves blood flow to the brain so you are sharper in the afternoon.

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.
  • Distractions and other commitments make keep you from walking and exercising at the appointed times.
  • 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% to 20% difference may be felt.

Afternoon Walking and Exercise - Pros and Cons

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

Pros:

  • For most people, body temperature and hormone levels peak at 6 p.m. Exercising 3 hours before or after the peak will give you your best workout for both endurance and building muscle.
  • Research shows lung function is best at 4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Muscles are warm and flexible.
  • Lowest perceived exertion of the day: You can exert yourself more while feeling it less, so you may be able to workout harder or faster in the afternoon.
  • Afternoon 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:
• Distractions and other commitments may keep you from walking and exercising at the appointed times.

Evening Walking and Exercise Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • For most people, body temperature and hormone levels peak at 6 p.m. Exercising 3 hours before or after the peak will give you your best workout for both endurance and building muscle.
  • Muscles are warm and flexible.
  • Perceived exertion is low -- how hard you feel yourself working at exercise. So you may be able to work out harder or faster.
  • Can help regulate the amount of food you feel like eating for dinner.
  • Stress relief after a day at work, school, or home.

Cons:

  • •Distractions and other commitments make keep you from walking and exercising at the appointed times.
  • 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, need to schedule your workout earlier.
  • At dark times of the year, be sure to wear reflective gear.

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:

Medarov, B.I. "Hour-to-hour variation of FEV1/FVC" CHEST.2004;126(4_MeetingAbstracts):744S-b-745S.

Benloucif S, Orbeta L, Ortiz R, Janssen I, Finkel SI, Bleiberg J, Zee PC. "Morning or evening activity improves neuropsychological performance and subjective sleep quality in older adults" Sleep. 2004 Dec 15;27(8):1542-51.

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

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