Exercise Later in the Day May Be Best for Blood Sugar

For many of us, days are busy. We have to fit so many things into a set number of hours! Finding time in the day to exercise can be difficult. We’ve written multiple times about how walking after meals helps blood sugar immediately and long-term. But, when it comes to longer workouts, getting them into the correct window in your day may boost their effectiveness.

A new study found that working out in the afternoon or evening might be best for blood sugar control. People who worked out between noon and midnight had lower insulin resistance. Researchers also found that people who worked out in the morning had the same level of insulin resistance as people who spread it out over the day.

Our aim was to investigate associations of timing of physical activity and breaks in sedentary time with liver fat content and insulin resistance in a middle-aged population,” lead study author Dr. Jeroen van der Velde of Leiden Univ. Medical Center.  

The study looked at people in the Netherlands between the ages of 45 and 65 with a body mass index (BMI) of 27 or above. There was a control group with all of the inhabitants of a municipality between those ages with the country’s average BMI. The study had almost 6,700 people included. Everyone had a physical with blood tests for fasting and post-meal sugar levels. They also answered lifestyle questions, and some took MRI scans to have their liver fat measured. Out of that massive group, 955 were given accelerometers and heart rate monitors to track them for four days. Out of that group, 775 people had complete data sets and were included in the analysis.

The analysis found that people who exercised in the afternoon had an 18 percent reduction in insulin resistance compared to those who did in the morning or throughout the day. People who exercised in the evening had a 25 percent reduction.

The researchers said they didn’t want to draw any hardline conclusions from their results. “We are just starting to comprehend to potential health benefits of timing of physical activity,” said Dr. van der Velde. “In order to translate our findings into individual advice, there are several things we need to understand. Also, we do not know if everyone will benefit from changing their timing of activities. Maybe, people that can be characterized as a morning person actually will benefit more from physical activity earlier in the day. For now, I think we should await future studies to translate our findings into clinical messages.”

They didn’t have any of their participants change the way they exercised. So it could be that people who exercise later in the day lead a different lifestyle that could account for the difference in insulin resistance. It could be that blood sugar is linked to sleep patterns that impact when people exercise. There are so many possibilities that it is hard to draw a conclusion.

Timing of exercise is a relatively unexplored field in human studies and needs more studies,” said Dr. Michael Sagner, President of the European Society of Preventive Medicine. “The present study cannot lead to any changes in the current recommendations. Physical activity is essential for health and disease prevention and should be built into the weekly routine, nevertheless the timing throughout the day.”

This new study is interesting. If you have time to exercise in the evening and have wondered when the best time is, it might be then. However, our top pick for the best time remains unchanged: it’s when you can fit it in. As we said at the very beginning, days are busy. Whenever you find time to exercise, that’s the best time to do it! Walking after meals can help prevent spikes. Whenever else you can get your heart pumping is the perfect time to do it!  

Banner image: Fitsum Admasu via Unsplash

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