6 Scientific Steps to Boost Your Workout
Many of us enjoy exercising in some form or another. My wife and I love to hike. Several of my friends are CrossFit addicts. Other friends enjoy lifting weights or running, and others still enjoy pick-up games of some sport or another.
Whatever your activity is, and whatever your reason for it (health, fun, social interaction, etc.), here are several scientifically proven ways to get the most out of your workout.
1. Work out late in the afternoon.
A college professor once told me that the best time to exercise is "Whenever you'll actually do it." This is great advice! Regular and consistent exercise is better than well-timed but sporadic exercise. Once you make the habit of exercising regularly, though, try doing it late in the afternoon.
While scientists are fairly vague on the exact time, you can generalize the timeframe to be from 5pm-9pm, depending on when you start and finish your day. Most athletes will say that this is when they're at their peak physical performance (the majority of athletic world records are set/broken during this time of day), which goes hand-in-hand with when the average person's body is at its highest activity level.
Basically, if you workout in the evenings you'll be able to work your body harder, and accordingly see better results.
2. Exercise in bright light.
This one gets a little more technical. Behind each eye there's a cluster of cells called the suprachaismatic nuclei (SCN) that are responsible for the body's biological clock. This is what causes you to wake up, become sleepy, and get hungry at regular times.
Your eye's retinas have cells specifically for the recognition of light intensity, and those cells have a direct connection to the SCN. In effect, the brighter the light, the stronger the transmission into the SCN, which, creates increased energy in the body. Ergo, you're able to work your body more without feeling it in the moment.
3. Exercise 3-4 hours before going to bed.
This creates longer periods of slow-wave sleep, which is the type of sleep psychologists call "the most physiologically restorative sleep." I.e. you'll sleep better.
4. Do not exercise within 2.5 hours of going to bed.
While exercising 3-4 hours before sleeping creates better sleep, exercising too close to bed increases your heart rate during the first few hours of sleep. You won't necessarily feel this the night of, but the long-term wear and tear on the body leads to substantial increases in cardiovascular disease.
5. Exercise regularly, even if it's for shorter periods.
Exercise has a dose-response pattern. This means that the more frequently you exercise, the more positive effects it has on your body. For example, people who work out 2 times or less per week have significantly fewer gains when compared to those who work out 3 or more times per week. Working out regularly (e.g. 20 minutes a day everyday) is better than working out sporadically (e.g. 1.5 hours every 4 days).
6. Avoid exercising right when you wake up.
We already know that working out in the late afternoon is best for physical performance. When you exercise right as you get out of bed, you're training your heart rate to spike upon awakening. Your body naturally does this to prepare you for the day, but this causes increased wear and tear on the cardiovascular system.
As you exercise more frequently in the evening, this spike levels out. But if you start exercising five minutes after waking up, you're training your body to keep that spike in the mornings, which wears on your cardiovascular system.
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