Is there an optimal time of day to exercise? When it comes to blood sugar control, there might be…
A new study led by Dr Jeroen van der Velde at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, suggests exercising in the afternoon or evening (between noon and midnight) may be more beneficial than spreading activity throughout the day – potentially cutting insulin resistance by up to a quarter.
Insulin resistance is when cells in the muscles, fat and liver are less easily able to take up glucose (sugar) from the blood, meaning the pancreas has to work harder to produce insulin, which aids the process. Over time, insulin resistance can lead to pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes.
Of course, when we exercise often depends on our individual circumstances – so don’t ditch early workouts if that’s what works for you. “It’s so important to remember that any movement or workout is better than nothing,” says Katrin Schlee, master personal trainer with Gympass (site.gympass.com/uk). “Whenever you can fit it in is better than not at all, and you’ll feel much better because of it.”
But if you are keen to aim for exercise later in the day, here are some key things to think about…
What if I just can’t be bothered later in the day?The urge to slop on the sofa can be strong come evening – especially at this time of year. There’s nothing wrong with some cosy Netflix, but if you’re determined to get in some afternoon or after-work exercise, there is hope: “If energy is dwindling, it’s really important to plan an activity you will really look forward to. Find an activity to love,” Schlee suggests.
“It might be a good idea to arrange to do it with a friend, so you are accountable for showing up,” she adds. “And if you are motivated to start, you shouldn’t have any problems with energy levels once you get going. The benefits are fantastic for mental health, and the muscular system and cardiovascular system will also benefit, depending on your form of training.”
Make the most of online options
With so many options online now, squeezing in a workout at home has never been easier – find something you can do as soon as you get in, while dinner cooks, or the kids are at their clubs or watching TV, for example.
“Online/app workouts are a fantastic option for those who are time limited,” says Schlee. “Also, live classes online or getting an online PT is a great way to get a workout in, and you don’t have to compromise on quality just because you can’t get to a gym – there’s so much available online now.”
Will working out later affect my sleep?While afternoon exercise shouldn’t be an issue, if you’re doing a workout later in the evening, you might want to consider the intensity. “It is important to know your own body and what works for you, but it’s proven that high intensity training close to bedtime will raise your cortisol levels (stress hormone) and affect the quality of your sleep,” says Schlee.
“If this is the only time of day you can workout, then it’s important to take some extra time to relax, unwind and let your body calm down before bedtime, to maximise recovery during sleep. A calm yoga or Pilates workout, or a low-intensity workout or stretch should be absolutely fine before bed, and could even help you relax, unwind and fall asleep faster.”
That said, Shlee notes it’s still important we get enough vigorous and moderate-intensity exercise to reap the wider cardiovascular health benefits – so factor this into the picture, too. The NHS recommends aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week, spread over at least four to five days.
Pop to the pool
“Swimming is a great way of working your entire body, including your cardiovascular system. Plus, you can generally do it if you have an injury or pain, as the buoyancy allows you to do more,” says Helen O’Leary, physiotherapist and instructor/director at Complete Pilates (complete-pilates.co.uk). “And swimming can be a great thing to do in the evening, because it can help you sleep. There have been a few studies which show it helps older people with insomnia, and people reported their quality of life improved because of this.
“It also helps boost your mood and manage stress levels, which is great to do at the end of a stressful day at work. It helps you relax before you go into the evening with your family or partner.”
What about running?Running would help hit those more intense exercise targets – but if it’s already getting dark, visibility needs to be a top consideration. “Wear clothing that makes you highly visible,” says fitness expert and PT Laura Williams (laurawilliamsonline.co.uk). “Think hi-vis, hand or head torches, ankle lights, LED armbands, reflective gloves and laces… Keep yourself seen by pedestrians, other runners, cyclists and motorists.”
Another consideration is warmth: “Invest in clothing that helps you stay warm, while helping to move moisture away from your skin. Gloves and hats come into their own in winter too, even if you don’t wear them normally,” says Williams, who suggests chatting to an advisor in an outdoors or running shop if you’re unsure what you need. Footwear is also key, as there can be a higher risk of slipping at this time of year (and stay indoors if conditions are just not suitable!).
Finally, this is definitely not a time to skip your warm-up. Williams suggests doing some dynamic stretches (with movement) and jogging on the spot at home before you set off, and then static stretches when you finish. “Start your run at a slow-to-moderate pace, easing your muscles into running in a cooler temperature,” she adds.