Proper nutrition and dieting are the biggest keys to transforming your life and losing weight. But for most people, getting in a little exercise now and then can really tip the scales between success and failure for overall healthier living.
Yet for many of us, determining the best time to hit the gym or actively engage our bodies in some way can be tough. Is it better to exercise when our body is physically operating at peak capacity, or does it make more sense to engage our bodies first thing in the morning?
Determining the answer can be tough, but here’s some information that really can help you weigh the pros and cons of going for a light jog early in the a.m. or powering through it after you leave work.
Our bodies are amazing specimens. On top of their capability to send out millions of complex signals each day that allow us to move and carry out our activities, they also come complete with a biological clock that synchronizes physiological functions with our environment. These molecular interactions, known as circadian rhythms, determine when our bodies are the most energized and when they are ready to rest.
Circadian rhythms follow a 24-hour cycle and are extremely responsive to external factors, such as dark or light. If a person is surrounded by light, the body releases more cortisol, a stress-hormone that energizes us. During late-night hours, the body releases the hormone melatonin, which makes us sleepy.
Studies show that most humans’ circadian rhythm cycle adjusts the body for peak performance early in the evening, usually between 4-5 p.m., and slows it down late at night to allow the body to rest. During peak performance hours, when the cortisol levels are highest, our bodies have greater lung capacity. In addition, our internal temperatures get higher, increasing blood flow to muscles and making it easier for oxygen to reach them.
The changes late in the afternoon make exercise easier and decrease the risk for injury. Experts say working out during these hours will help the body achieve optimal performance.
So if our bodies respond best after a day at the office, then why would anyone want to hit the gym or go for a brisk jog before work? While exercising early in the evening is optimal for peak body performance, there are many other reasons why you may find early morning exercise is the better option.
First, many of us struggle with finding time to head to a fitness class or go for an early-evening jog when the kids want dinner or your evening gets bogged down with endless tasks of cleaning up and helping with homework. When time is limited, many people skip the workout to handle other obligations, which breeds inconsistency.
More importantly, many studies find that exercising in the morning has major benefits. One study showed that working out before breakfast or early in the morning jump-starts your metabolism and directly combats the effects of eating high-calorie, high-fat diets. Another study of over 500 people by the Mollen Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona revealed that 75 percent of people who worked out in the morning were more likely to do so on an everyday basis, while only half of those who worked out late in the afternoon maintained their fitness schedule.
Researchers also showed that early-morning exercise improves sleep quality. Other studies indicate that exercise improves cognitive function, meaning that a morning workout will likely make daily challenges a little less daunting.
It’s true that synchronizing your fitness routine in accordance with your circadian rhythms may be ideal for physical optimality. But the reality is, there are many more benefits to pushing yourself to get in that early-morning workout instead.
Besides the clear advantages of improved cognitive function, better sleep and increasing your metabolism’s ability to process the food you consume, an early- morning jog or gym session breeds commitment that you may not be able to maintain if you shoot for after work.
If you find that you struggle to engage your body so early in the morning, there are ways to push your body past any daybreak fatigue. Experts say that a good warm-up can also prep the body for energetic movement at any time of the day. Warming up forces our bodies to do a lot of things that the circadian rhythm does naturally. A good warm-up increases breathing to optimize lung capacity, maximizes energy-producing reactions and stimulates your body’s blood flow so that oxygen can quickly reach the muscles you are working out.
Another trick to gearing up your body for a workout is to rev up your music playlist. A 1997 study showed that listening to music can make a huge impact on a person’s ability to work out. For example, music can divert attention away from fatigue and stimulate the body’s muscles. Another study found that beats in a song can even be synchronized with human movement to encourage optimal performance.
The key to any lifestyle change is consistency. Maintaining a regular morning fitness routine will work wonders in nourishing your long-term weight loss goals. Whether you want to engage in a morning fitness routine three times a week or every day, the important thing is to make it happen. So set your alarm, warm-up, pop in your headphones and get moving.
Caitlin is a journalist by trade and an avid runner. She is passionate about maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle and encouraging people to engage in common-sense eating. Caitlin believes a well-rounded life is all about balancing fitness with nutrition that incorporates all aspects of food and proper portion-sizes.