The Best Time of Day to Walk and Exercise

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Is there a best time of day to walk? Research on lung function, body rhythms, and temperature 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

If you're an early riser, morning workouts may fit into your schedule. But night owls might struggle with an early fitness session.

Pros

There are many benefits to getting in your walks or workouts in the morning. For instance, a study published in 2012 found reduced attraction to photos of food after a 45-minute brisk morning walk and more activity throughout the rest of the day. And another study published in 2013 found that male cyclists had better endurance capacity in the morning as compared to evenings. 

In addition to these documented benefits, there are other advantages to walking in the morning.

  • Exercise gives a feeling of physical energy for hours.
  • The lowest air pollution levels are in the morning.
  • The majority of people who exercise consistently do so early in the day. It is easier to form the exercise habit through morning exercise.
  • There are cooler temperatures in summer for enjoying outdoor exercise, compared with later 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.
  • Your body adjusts to your exercise time, so if you are training for a morning walking event, train in the morning.

Cons

Safety can be a concern if you need to walk before the sun rises. When days are shorter it may be too dark to walk safely very early in the morning. And there are other drawbacks to walking in the morning.

  • Because body temperature is higher late in the afternoon, you probably get the same or better calorie-burning effects later in the day.
  • 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.

Lunchtime Exercise

Many people break up the work day with healthy activity. But others feel that it's a hassle to change in and out of workout apparel.

Pros

If you have a sedentary job, it can do your body a lot of good to break up the workday with exercise. It's also a great time to socialize with walking partners and take time away from sitting at your desk. Consider these other benefits to adding a walk to the middle of your day.

  • 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.
  • Body temperature levels are higher than they were first thing in the morning. You can make a habit to walk at lunch and break time.
  • Exercise can help regulate the amount of food you feel like eating for lunch and help you avoid break-time snacking.
  • For some, this may make the workout feel easier.

Cons

Research published in 2012 shows that lung function is worse after noon in people with COPD. For an easy walk, a healthy person may not notice the difference. But for a vigorous workout or for those with lung problems, the 15% to 20% difference may be felt. There may be other disadvantages to a lunchtime walk.

  • Changing into exercise clothes (or at least shoes) and out of sweaty clothes may not work for some people.
  • If your lunch break is unpredictable you may not be able to walk a full 30 to 60 minutes for a full workout.
  • Not everyone has a job that allows them to take a regular break at lunchtime.

Late Afternoon Exercise

If you regularly have a block of free time in the late afternoon, this might be a smart time to schedule exercise. But it doesn't work for everyone.

Pros

Research published in 2011 suggested that afternoon (3 p.m. to 7 p.m.) is the best time to exercise for both performances and for building muscle. And research shows lung function is best from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. which may help you to reach a more vigorous intensity. You'll enjoy other benefits if you walk later in the afternoon.

  • Afternoon exercise can help regulate the amount of food you feel like eating for dinner.
  • For most people, body temperature peaks at 6 p.m. Exercising later at night (after 7pm) will increase body temperature and can make it difficult to get to sleep.
  • Muscles are warm and flexible, reducing your risk of injury.
  • 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.
  • You can exercise for stress relief after a day at work, school, or home.

Cons

Many people feel an energy slump in the late afternoon. And there are other reasons that this time slot may not be the best time to walk.

  • 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.
  • You may find that things keep coming up that force you to work late or tempt you to socialize rather than exercise.

Evening Exercise

You may be able to schedule your exercise sessions for the evening hours. But consider these pros and cons, first.

Pros

An evening workout can be just the thing you need to destress after a hard workday. And there are other benefits.

  • Evening exercise can help curb nighttime snacking.
  • Good time to connect with family with healthy activity after dinner
  • Muscles are warm and flexible.
  • Perceived exertion is low. You may be able to work out harder or faster.

Cons

At dark times of the year, it may not be as safe to walk outside. If you choose this time to walk, be sure to wear reflective gear when walking outdoors. You might also want to consider these potential drawbacks.

  • 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 intense walking or exercise to be able to fall asleep. If you discover sleeping problems, you need to schedule your workout earlier or simply walk at a low-moderate intensity.

A Word From Verywell

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.

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