• Ash Radford

When you exercise matters but don't worry about the scientific reasons

Updated: Oct 21, 2021

We know more about the body and exercise than ever before. With a few taps on the keyboard you can find studies on any aspect of fitness. I came across one revealing you can time exercise to shift your circadian (sleep wake cycle). Great news if you’re a shift worker or dealing with jet lag. Several other studies show evening is best for strength and endurance. Again, good to know if you’re an aspiring Olympian needing that edge. For most of us though that sort of information, while interesting, makes the simple complex.


Don’t let perfect get in the way of good


It’s natural to want get the most back from your hard work in the gym. You want to ensure you’re doing the right exercises, in the right way, at the right time. Sometimes though, in a bid to ensure you’re getting most benefit, you can get so caught up in technical detail that perfectionism takes hold. Looking at the bigger picture, it’s clear the main reason people don’t get and stay fit is not technical or scientific. It’s a simple lack of consistency and frequency. The number of exercise sessions you do over months, years and decades matters most. You don’t need scientific studies to know it. Top priority should be to find finding ways of exercising repeatedly. Aim to get it done, rather than get it done brilliantly. Giving thought to when you workout can actually help with that.

Why exercising early in the morning works


Loads of people find early morning best. A big reason is the lack of distractions, there’s slim chance of things cropping up. It’s rare you’ll have meetings or appointments run overtime at dawn. Traffic or family issues at 6 or 7am are unlikely as well. While no one feels like huffing and puffing straight after waking, those who do feel more positive and energised throughout the day. It makes it well worth the effort. Besides which, once you’re through the first few difficult minutes, the blood and oxygen flow. Then you’re wide awake, any sluggishness forgotten.

The time you can exercise most often is best

Person looking at watch to check if time to exercise

Lack of time is the number 1 reason given for not exercising. Few have the luxury of choosing when they can. Early morning for instance won’t work if you’re busy with kids and transport. Being flexible helps. However, find a repeatable time (& place) and you’ll go some way to forging the consistency needed. It comes back to that boring old word- habit. So much of life is spent doing the same things, at the same times, days and places. It’s worth taking advantage of that tendency when it comes to exercise. Once ingrained you’ll barely have to think about your regular 7am workouts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It becomes almost automatic. Building your tally of exercise sessions over months and years will then happen almost by default. It’s another one of those things you do as a rule, like brushing your teeth. Of course 7am is just an example. Depending on your schedule 10am or even 10pm could be most workable. It comes back to when is possible, rather than when is ideal.

Good news- your body adapts to when you exercise


Just as your unconscious mind goes into auto pilot as things become habit, so too does your body. Several studies show [1 ,2 , 3] your body adapts to the time of day you exercise. It’s true for both strength and cardio fitness. This basically overrides the advantages of training in the late afternoon that other studies point towards. Again, consistency is key for this change to happen. You can take it too far and become rigid as well. When life throws up curve balls being able to move or shorten workouts helps keep momentum going. You can easily slip back into your regular routine when normality returns. So, when works best for you to exercise? Is there a time or routine that’s worked in the past? What strategies would help make exercise so habitual you’d barely have to think about it?

 

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