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Which Is Better: Exercising Before Or After Work?

Source | FastCompany : By Laura Vanderkam

In an ideal world, I would exercise first thing in the morning. I’d also be well rested, someone else would be available to watch my children, and the weather would be warm enough that I could run through my neighborhood without slipping on ice.

But the stars rarely align for all this to happen. That’s why lately I’ve been hitting the treadmill at night after my youngest child goes to bed. There are arguments for and against 8:00 p.m. exercise, but none of the “con” arguments hold up if the alternative is not to exercise at all.

Little Opportunity Cost

The “pro” argument is simple: Most people do little of consequence after 8:00 p.m. While mornings can be rushed, lunchtime exercise introduces the shower question, and post-work hours can get sucked up by work emergencies, by late evening, most people are just watching TV. This is low-value time. It is prime for repurposing. If you go to the gym, it will be empty. If you work out at home (for convenience, or because you’re in charge of sleeping children), you’re using time you might have spent sorting the mail. You don’t care if you’re smelly because you’re not going anywhere. There is little opportunity cost.

Morning Exercisers Are More Consistent

Of course, there are arguments against evening exercise, too. First, morning exercisers tend to be more consistent. Fitness tracker Jawbone looked at data from its users and found that while exercise tended to happen during two peaks during the day—before work and after work—users who exercised at least three times per week were much more likely to work out in the morning than in the evening. “People tend to have a much stricter routine in the morning,” says Brian Wilt, director and head of data science and analytics at Jawbone. “They wake up at the same time, they go to work same time.” If you’ve built a workout into your morning schedule, you will do it. But “there’s a lot more variability in the end of people’s days,” he says. “It’s a little bit harder for people to keep a routine.”

Then there’s the matter of discipline. If you’ve had a rough day, it becomes very easy to have two beers at dinner and decide that the couch is more compelling than a workout video. Jawbone data show that physical activity drops pretty quickly after 9:00 p.m.

Finally, sleep experts have traditionally warned people against exercising at night for fear it will keep them from falling asleep.

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