Who’d have thought that the gentle almost meditative martial arts practice of Tai Chi could contain a controversy of epic proportion? Well, it does, and the minor furor is all about the right time to get your practice in. There are two very vocal camps on the issue and they both believe that their position is the right one.
Is there a best time to do Tai Chi? The best time to do Tai Chi is either in the early morning while the world is still waking up, or just whenever you can actually get to practicing around a busy schedule. These are the two main solutions for scheduling your Tai Chi practice.
Both arguments have their reasons so let’s take a deeper look at each of them. I hope you can decide for yourself which is the more credible approach.
Are Mornings The Best Time To Do Tai Chi?
There are three strong arguments for the idea that Tai Chi was best carried out in the mornings:
- The air is cleaner. Proponents argue that over night there is pollution being produced and thus, the air must be cleanest in the mornings.
- It helps set the tone for your day. A physical workout and period of mental relaxation will help you face the day in the proper mood.
- It helps you build up a routine. If you want to make lasting changes in your life, they should become habits, having a fixed morning workout can help you ensure that your Tai Chi practice becomes “sticky” in your life.
Let’s examine each of these in turn.
Is The Air Cleaner In The Mornings?
We can understand why people believe this. It sounds sensible, the idea that mornings follow a period of low pollution generation and therefore must be the least polluted time of the day. Unfortunately, there is a big problem with this belief.
It’s not true.
There are two factors which affect air pollution strength:
- The level of emissions. This you’d expect to be important – after all, it’s hard to have high levels of pollution without high levels of pollutants.
- The way that these emissions are disbursed through the air. That is “how do they move the pollution around so that we can breathe it in.”
In cities, the first big issue is that mornings aren’t emission free. When people drive to work, their cars, buses, lorries, etc. are all emitting large amounts of pollution. From rush hour onward, there is a large spike in the level of emissions.
On top of this, there is a second big issue, the air tends to be relatively still in the mornings before all the offices, factories, etc. are in action and thus, the pollution tends to stay exactly where it is being generated – that is where you can breathe it in.
This might sound ridiculous but data from Beijing, one of the world’s most polluted cities, bears this out. They found that the morning is not a low pollution period but oddly, the early afternoon is.
If you’re going to practice Tai Chi in the mornings to try and avoid pollution, it appears that you’re picking the wrong time of day. The afternoon would be a better bet.
Does It Help To Set The Tone For Your Day?
Here we find that the proponents of a morning workout are on much steadier ground. We think it’s pretty conclusive that you can get more out of an exercise routine such as Tai Chi by working out in the morning and here’s why:
You Get The Work Done Early
It’s all too easy to come home from work and think, “I’m exhausted, I have no time to work out, I’ll leave it until tomorrow” but like in the famous story, tomorrow never actually comes.
Throw in family demands, friends asking you out for the evening, that Netflix series on the TV, the computer game you’ve been meaning to play, etc. and very quickly you stop even thinking of exercise in the evenings. That’s not because you’re bad but because you’re human.
Do your Tai Chi in the morning before all this starts and it’s done. No distractions to fight off later in the day.
It’s Better For Your Health
There is strong evidence that morning workouts help you kickstart your metabolism and get it burning harder all day long. This is really important if you’re pursuing Tai Chi as part of a program to lose some weight. The faster your metabolism runs, the more fuel you consume.
It’s worth noting that regular exercise of any kind (and at any time) raises the metabolic rate even when you are not working but there is a distinct advantage to getting started in the mornings and the benefits are more distinct.
Your Body Is Designed To Work Out In The Mornings
Assuming that you’re not working unusual shift patterns, you are probably sleeping at night and then getting out of bed. While you’ve been sleeping, your body has been quietly processing all your food energy into the right parts of your body and repairing your muscle tissue (which tears and breaks regularly and naturally in everyone).
That means you’re in the optimum shape to tackle a workout routine. Your body is fresh, fueled and in the best condition it’s going to be in all day.
There is also some anecdotal evidence that demonstrates that morning workouts are also better for your mental-wellbeing, but we couldn’t prove this to be true.
There Are Fewer People Out And About In The Mornings
One other, minor benefit, of working out in the mornings is that most people don’t like doing things in the mornings, they’d rather sleep. This means that you’ll find practice spaces and gyms are generally quieter and it’s easier to get the space you need to get your full workout.
Does It Help You Build Up A Routine?
This is the biggest reason of all to do your Tai Chi practice in the morning. The evidence is overwhelming that it helps you build up a routine when you exercise in the morning.
Cedric Bryant, PhD, told WebMD, “Research suggests in terms of performing a consistent exercise habit, individuals who exercise in the morning tend to do better. The thinking is that they get their exercise in before other time pressures interfere.”
This study published in Wiley in the Obesity Journal, bears this out. It also shows that a regular work out routine is good for your health and weight loss.
A Fourth Argument For Morning Workouts?
It is worth noting that traditionally, Chinese people do their Tai Chi practice in the mornings. If you wander the streets of any major Chinese city at around 6 a.m. – 7 a.m. you can find crowds of people doing Tai Chi nearly everywhere. However, tradition isn’t necessarily a good argument for doing your Tai Chi practice in the morning.
Is The Best Time To Do Tai Chi Whenever You Actually Can?
The argument in favor of doing Tai Chi whenever you can is much simpler. It focuses on the fairly obvious truth that if you’re not doing any Tai Chi because mornings don’t suit you – then some Tai Chi is better than none at all.
If these folks had studied the pollution charts, they’d be able to point to them and note that the air you breathe while doing Tai Chi in the early afternoon is going to be cleaner than the air you breathe in the mornings.
They’d also be entirely correct if they asserted that the majority of physical and mental benefits provided by practicing Tai Chi are likely to be available to you, no matter what time of day you practice at.
However, as we’ve already noted, the real challenge is turning this into a habit. Most of us have conflicting demands in the early afternoons (many office workers aren’t going to be able to avail themselves of this time slot at all) and these demands tend to ramp up, not down, later in the day.
And on this point, the evidence is clearly in favor of doing your Tai Chi in the mornings if it is at all possible. But as we’ve seen, some Tai Chi is BETTER THAN NONE!
So while the evidence is in favor of doing your Tai Chi in the mornings if possible, some Tai Chi is BETTER THAN NOTHING AT ALL. If you cannot get the benefits of early morning Tai Chi, you will anyway be better off doing what you can at any time of the day.