Your Workout Time – Pay Attention to Your Internal Clock

Guest article written by Angie Picardo

Everyone’s brain houses a collection of hormones and neurons whose main jobs is to regulate the rhythm of our daily lives. This collection is often referred to as the internal or “biological” clock and typically is based off the 24 hour cycle of day and night. Usually, our familiarity with the circadian rhythm – or internal clock – is limited to the idea of how to disrupt it through jet lag or changing work shifts. However, our internal clocks also regulate many important internal affairs. All these factors are regulated by our circadian rhythms: - Energy level - Body temperature - Metabolism - Blood pressure - Hormone/protein production Because of this, the ability to listen to our internal clock has a surprising result: it is essential to the success of our workouts.

Temperature is King

In order to effectively heed our internal clocks and benefit from our exercise, we first have to understand what it is our clocks are telling us. Internal body temperature, regulated by our internal clock, is very important in determining the quality of a workout. When body temperature is at its lowest point – from about midnight to three hours before we wake up in the morning – any form of exercise will yield poor results. However, exercise done in the late afternoon when your body is warmest will be highly beneficial. This is because crucial factors such as blood pressure, cardiovascular efficiency, and muscle strength are greatest in the afternoon and early evening. Later in the evening and very early in the morning however, the body begins to produce large amounts of melatonin: a hormone that makes you tired and prepares your body to shut down for sleep. This hormone slows all of your body’s process and makes it difficult to maintain optimal results from your workout. In addition to this, late-night exercise is inadvisable because it causes disruption in your sleep cycle and normal circadian rhythms.

Following Your Clock

So now that you know what your body is telling you, how do you apply its advice to your daily life? Late afternoon is—for most people—just as busy and stressful a time; you’re driving home in rush hour traffic, the kids have to be picked up from school, and dinner needs to be made, etc. So while late afternoon is usually optimal for a workout, if you enjoy beginning your day with exercise, or if you really have no time the rest of the day, stick with your schedule. Always keep in mind that exercise at any time of the day is better than no exercise at all. However, if you find yourself with some flexibility in your schedule, make small changes to help yield the best results. An exercise video before dinner, a quick jog before or after work, a 20 minute walk at lunchtime or run with the dog once you get home—these are all small changes that can be easily made to fit more exercise into your schedule.

Here are a few more tips to get you started:

Start slowly - A little change is better than none at all. Instead of following some pre-planned workout regime, focus on all the activities you enjoy. You’ll have a better chance of making and keeping your exercise program if it’s built around things you like to do.

Stay Motivated - Make short-term, achievable goals such as stress relief or improving your mood rather than broad, long-term projects such as weight loss. Also, keeping a record of your progress will help keep you stay motivated.

Mix it up! - Make exercise a social activity and find a friend or family member to exercise with. Also, try listening to music or varying your location to keep yourself interested in your workout.

All too often we get caught up in planning the perfect exercise regime and in doing so we sacrifice valuable time and money. You don’t need expensive gym memberships or fancy equipment to get the most out of your workout; you just need a little time and your internal clock. Making 5 or 10 minutes for exercise is the first step to a healthy, active lifestyle.

Angie Picardo is a staff NerdWallet, a personal finance site dedicated to helping people improve their lives and master the art of money management, from developing an effective budget to taking advantage of ecoupons when you shop online.

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