When do you exercise? Do you fit it in after work in the early evening? Do you get up early and do it in the morning? Or are you one of those people who sneaks in a game of tennis at lunchtime? And do you exercise gently, vigorously, or however you can?
Here are tips from Maharishi AyurVeda®—and new research findings—on the best times and easiest ways to exercise for better health.
What’s the Best Time to Exercise?
Believe it or not, the ancient health system of Ayurveda has very clear suggestions about when and how to exercise. For thousands of years, Ayurveda has been recommending that there are two ideal times to exercise:
- In the morning, between 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m.
- In the evening, from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Why are these the best times to get moving? According to Ayurveda, these are the times of day that are dominated by Kapha Dosha. Kapha refers to the structural element in our bodies. This element is more stable and slow, and can lend a little sluggishness to the body. (See my article on the Supersystems for more on what this means.)
Exercising during Kapha times of day helps us balance and protect our bodies. The stimulation of exercise counters the sluggishness of Kapha, while the stability of Kapha helps keep the body from getting overstimulated, or even injured, during exercise.*
Can Exercise Improve Nighttime Blood Pressure?
One researcher studied the effects of doing aerobic exercise at three different times of day on a particular health measure: nocturnal blood pressure.1 While we sleep, our blood pressure should drop gradually and reach a low point in the early morning hours. This blood pressure dip gives our heart a rest.
But for some people, their blood pressure just doesn’t drop at night. These non-dippers, as they’re called, have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and heart failure later in life. How might exercise affect this blood pressure drop at night, for both dippers and non-dippers?
Morning or Evening Exercise Has Better Health Effects
This study found that people who exercised in the morning, around 7:00 a.m., got the most benefit. They had the largest drop in their blood pressure during the night. This happened both for people who have normal blood pressure dip at night and non-dippers.
It may seem counterintuitive, but exercising early in the day affected their blood pressure in a beneficial way—15 to 20 hours later.
The second-best time to exercise, according to this study, is in the evening. This may also be counterintuitive: “That’s close to bedtime, so it’s got to lead to non-dipping at night.” But people who exercised at 7:00 p.m. had a healthy blood pressure dip during the night, and a good dip in their lower, diastolic blood pressure too.
According to AyurVeda, evening is a good time to exercise, but also second best, due to potentially being overstimulated before bedtime (more on that in a moment).
Noontime Exercise? Not So Much
The participants who exercised at lunchtime, on the other hand, didn’t experience the same benefits. Their blood pressure dipped somewhat during the night, but not to the same extent or with the same benefit as for those who exercised at 7:00 a.m. or 7:00 p.m.
This may be counterintuitive too. We think we’re doing something great for our health by going out for a noon run or tennis match, but mid-day exercise is not as beneficial on nighttime blood pressure. Still, exercise anytime is better than not exercising at all!
Ayurveda would agree that mid-day is not when the body wants to exercise. In fact, noontime is the best time to eat your main meal. There’s an Ayurvedic saying that makes this research meaningful: “After lunch, rest awhile. After dinner, walk a mile.”
The Power of the Morning Walk
Ayurveda also highly recommends walking in the morning. In fact, walking is considered to be a Rasayana, or rejuvenative. A traditional tale illuminates why this Rasayana is such a powerful health practice:
An ancient king in India wanted to find the best Vaidya, or Ayurvedic health practitioner, for his family. He called all the great Ayurvedic physicians to come to his court.
To test them he asked, “What is the one rejuvenative that is available to everyone, costs nothing, and is very easy to do?”
The answer given by the winning Vaidya was “a morning walk”—preferably outdoors, in the morning light.
20 Minutes of Morning Light Leads to Leaner Physiques
This ancient recommendation is also supported by modern research. A recent study by Northwestern University looked at light exposure and its effect on the human body.2
The researchers found that being outside in the morning dramatically influences our metabolism for the entire day. They also discovered that people who get more morning light exposure are leaner—have less fat.
As much as 20 percent of our body mass, and our weight, is determined by how much morning light we get. If we don’t get enough light in the morning, our body clock gets de-synchronized and alters our metabolism.
When that happens, even if we eat the same amount of food, we will tend to gain more weight. The researchers concluded that being outdoors in the morning—for at least 20 minutes—is beneficial for weight maintenance.
Timing Is Everything
With exercise, like everything in life, timing is everything. Stay in tune with the natural rhythms of your body by exercising during the Kapha time of 6:00 to 10:00 in the morning or 6:00 to 10:00 in the evening.
Walking in the morning is a great way to get gentle exercise, while benefitting from the positive effects of morning light on our metabolism throughout the day.
In the evening, we all have our own unique tolerance level for exercise. Go with what works for you. If it’s vigorous exercise, finish by 8:00 p.m. in order not to interfere with sleep. For some people, a walk or something equally gentle in the evening is best so as not to disturb sleep.
Exercise according to your capacity and work up gradually. If you aspire to be an elite athlete, or love to push yourself in exercise, that’s fine. Just do it within your capacity and work up slowly.
“Balance is the key to perfect health.” —Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
“Balance is the key to perfect health,” as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the Founder of the TM program and Maharishi AyurVeda, often said. This quote beautifully encapsulates the wisdom of Ayurveda.
When you stay in balance with the natural rhythms of your body, you’ll enjoy the greatest surge of energy during the day—and dive into the most rejuvenating sleep at night. Are you ready? Let’s get moving!