Is there an appropriate time to exercise – a time zone when you can get the most out of the workout?
Human beings are driven by an internal body clock. Your sleep and wake cycles follow a daily cycle called circadian rhythms. This cycle is regulated by light. Circadian rhythms, a basic part of human life is a cycle of physical, mental and behavioral changes oscillating on 24-hour intervals.
Circadian rhythms affect how the body functions – your cardiovascular system, metabolism, digestion, immune system, and hormonal balance. This ‘biological clock’ regulates bodily functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature and hormonal secretions as well as tells you when you need to rest (all this in the interest of your health and well being). The circadian rhythm creates a pattern in the body. No wonder you feel hungry, sleepy, or want to empty bowels at a particular time of the day.
Circadian rhythms differ during the day and during the night and have an effect on physical performance.
Research has found presence of circadian rhythms in various performance parameters of the heart like blood pressure, blood flow, body temperature and resting oxygen consumption. Factors that influence workouts like reaction time, hand/eye coordination, capacity for muscular strength, etc. were found to be optimum between in the later half of the day.
Going by this information, you can have a fantastic strength or cardio workout when you train in the afternoon to evening.
Your body temperature is the highest towards evening (7 pm), so your muscles are warm and flexible; and your muscle strength too is at its greatest. These three factors portend well for an injury free workout.
Something about alertness – Alertness peaks at 10 am also. Hence if you choose to workout in the morning, 10 am would be the best time.
(Alertness = Enhanced Reaction time = maximal output).
Individual differences in circadian rhythms make a person a Lark (morning person) or a Night Owl (evening person). Getting to exercising in the morning would be very difficult for a Night Owl – they would be sluggish at that time. Likewise, a Morning Lark would feel lethargic when compelled to workout in the evenings.
Physiologically, all of us are strongest and have more endurance in the afternoon to evening. So does a Night Owl have an edge over a Lark?
Not really…Research has shown that morning exercisers are more likely to be consistent with their workouts – they avoid getting caught up with hectic schedules that stretch the day endlessly – a major reason why people struggle with being regular. Early morning exercisers can look forward to improved physical and mental energy; what’s more, research shows that personal discipline in waking up early for exercise is likely to spill over into other areas of your life; those who believe that will power in adhering to exercise is a challenge would do well to choose exercise as the first activity of the day.
But what if you are at work or are committed in the afternoon and evening?
The good news is circadian rhythm is programmable. It can be reset based upon signals from the environment. The time of the day you regularly workout in can be one of these signals.
The circadian rhythm can be reset through certain behaviors – use of alarm clocks to wake up at a certain hour, establishing meal times, creating fixed hours for workout, etc. You can thus profit from the body and mind’s immense ability to adapt to a new environment and situation.
The sensible thing to do, therefore, is to look for a time slot that fits into a busy schedule. Since being consistent is the cornerstone to having good results – you need to zero in on an hour which works for you, where you can be regular – day after day, week after week. With the focus on being regular, you teach your body to be readiest for exercise as the designated hour approaches.
So, if you are waiting for the right time, it’s now!
Senior Faculty (Exercise Science)