You already know it's a good idea to exercise every day, but does the hour of your workouts impact their effectiveness? "The best time to exercise boils down to what works for you consistently," says Jessica Matthews, an exercise physiologist and spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise. That said, there may be certain times of day when your performance and efficiency will be higher—and other times when it may be less beneficial, or even downright dangerous, to hit the gym.
6 Times You Should Exercise
1. Exercise in Late Afternoon
A warm body is a (more) limber body, and your core temperature is at its highest in late afternoon. That means your muscles will be more flexible, more efficient and less prone to injury. Your resting heart rate will also be lowest in the afternoon, which will make exercise feel easier. Of course, that doesn't mean you should skip morning runs or lunchtime yoga if that's what works for your schedule.
2. Exercise in the Morning
Does the early bird get the better workout? Maybe not, but exercising in the A.M. does come with a slew of benefits. "You start your day off with a high burn, and get your energy up and metabolism running," says Jenn Burke, Fitness Manager for Crunch Gyms in Los Angeles. Studies have shown that getting moving in the morning could help curb cravings throughout the day, and it could help to prevent insomnia. Plus, you'll get your workout out of the way before other obligations interfere.
3. Exercise with a Head Cold
Obviously, fever and flu don't make good gym mates. But if your symptoms are isolated to above the neck, such as a stuffy/runny nose or a sore throat, there's no need to hang up your running shoes. In fact, research on exercise and the common cold has shown that moderate exercise could actually make those symptoms more tolerable. That said, you may want to curb your exercise intensity a bit, and stick to your neighborhood sidewalk, home gym or living room to avoid spreading germs. You may want to try a workout video or a 20-minute walk followed by stretching.
4. Exercise During the Workday
Sounds crazy, right? But you'd be surprised by how easy it is to squeeze mini exercise sessions into a busy workday. Park farther away from the entrance, walk outside during lunch and take the stairs instead of the elevator. You can even sneak in a 15-minute workout in your office or cube. In addition to boosting your fitness, studies have found that exercising during the workday may help to boost productivity and performance.
5. Exercise During Your Period
Although menstrual symptoms can make exercise seem unpleasant or even impossible during your period, physical activity can actually help to alleviate fatigue, pain, food cravings, irritability and depression. The endorphins released during exercise may help to relieve the pain of cramps and muscle tension, while also improving your mood. Plus, all that sweating during your workouts may help to reduce bloating. Unless your doctor advises otherwise, it's perfectly safe—and even recommended—to stick to your workout plan during your period.
6. Exercise When You're Tired
When you're not well-rested, it can be tough to get motivated to move, but it pays to push through that initial resistance. Research has shown that those who exercise regularly experience less fatigue than sedentary people. Next time you feel the mid-day slump creeping in, resist the urge to slam an energy drink or take a nap, and go for a walk or jog instead.
4 Times You Shouldn't Exercise
1. Don't Exercise with DOMS
Some degree of soreness is a welcome sign of an effective workout, but severe pain is your body's way of warning you to put on the brakes. If you're extremely sore a couple of days after a workout, you likely have Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), which is caused by microscopic tears inside the muscles. In that case, it's best to rest and ice the sore muscles. If you try to push through the pain, you could end up altering your form to compensate, which can cause injury. That said, active recovery with a light, low-impact activity, such as a walk or bike ride, will help alleviate soreness more than being completely sedentary.
2. Don't Exercise Too Soon after Surgery
After a surgical procedure, your body is expending a lot of energy into the healing process. When you exercise, you're diverting some of that energy to your muscles. You also run a higher risk of swelling and infection as your heart rate goes up and blood rushes to the surgical site. Talk to your doctor to find out how soon after surgery is safe to resume your exercise regimen.
3. Don't Exercise When You Have the Flu
Although it's usually fine to stick to your workouts when you have a common cold or "above the neck" symptoms, the flu is a different story. It's best to take it easy and let your immune system do its job. If you have a fever, that means your body is fighting off an infection, and it can also make you more prone to dehydration. Plus, the flu is contagious, so you should definitely steer clear of the gym and other group workout sessions.
4. Don't Exercise on a Full Stomach
It can be tempting to try to "work off" a big meal soon after eating, but it's best to give your body some time to digest your food before hitting the gym. Otherwise, some of your blood flow that would normally aid in digestion will be diverted to the muscles you're using during the workout and vice versa, so both processes will be less efficient than if you were exercising before eating or after just a light snack. To avoid the stomach/muscle competition, wait a couple of hours after a meal to get your fitness on.
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