Some people swear by a morning workout to get their day off on the right foot. Others prefer a walk after dinner to close out the day on an active note. But is one time better than another for maximum effectiveness?

Yes – and what determines the best time for you is how you feel. You’ll get much more from your workout, both mentally and physically, if you schedule it during the time of day when you’re least tired and sore.

Stiff and achy joints can slow you down first thing in the morning, whether you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or osteoarthritis (OA).  So if you’re going to exercise in the morning, you may want to give yourself some time after waking up – and perhaps a warm shower – to help limber up your joints.

If you’re going to exercise in the late afternoon or evening, experiment with times to see how your body responds. OA pain can get worse through the day with increased activity, and the fatigue that accompanies RA can wear you down. If you find you’ve waited too long one day and you’re especially exhausted or sore, just pick a better time the next day. But make sure you get some exercise – whenever your schedule and body can accommodate it.

If a flare sidelines you for a few days, ask your doctor or physical therapist for help modifying your fitness routine. “Even when symptoms are at their worst, you don’t need to stop exercising,” says Vonda Wright, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Center for Sports Medicine. “Maybe it’s not the right time to go for a brisk walk, but you could try using a recumbent bike. I also recommend doing water aerobics in a warm pool – it will feel soothing and will keep you moving.”