If you are an overweight man in early midlife on a high-fat diet, it matters when you work out. Evening exercise might be best. Here’s how to maximize your time.
The best diet is the one you find reasonably pleasant and will stick to over time. The same is true for exercise. We all need to find exercise we enjoy and a way that feels natural to keep it in our routine.
That said, if you are an overweight man in early midlife on a high-fat diet, exercise in the evening may improve your health more than a morning workout, according to a study.
Scientists don’t fully understand all the many clocks in our bodies, which cause hunger, heart rates, body temperature, and muscle strength, among many functions, to vary throughout the day. These clocks set themselves, going by clues from light (that’s why dark glasses help protect us from jet lag), sleep, meals, and exercise.
You may have heard that you get the most benefit from early morning exercise. If that gives you exposure to sun, it will help maintain your vitamin D levels and may improve your mood if you are prone to winter blues. It also might help you feel productive and eat a healthy lunch. It may not be especially good, however, for managing heart disease risks or maximizing your performance.
What the study tested
For the study, researchers recruited 24 sedentary, overweight Australian men, ages 33 to 45 who agreed to eat food supplied only by the study for 10 days. The delivered meals weren’t intended for weight loss; 65 percent of their calories came from fat. The researchers took various measures of the volunteers’ health along the way. After five days on the high-fat diet, eight men began exercising every day at 6:30 a.m., another eight exercised at 6:30 p.m., and the last group didn’t exercise.
The exercise plan included high-intensity cycling on stationary bikes alternating with easier workouts. All the men continued eating the delivered meals.
Five days of the high-fat diet made their LDL cholesterol increase, and they showed other signs of heart disease risk. Five days of exercising at 6:30 a.m. didn’t change those worrisome markers, but 6:30 p.m. exercise did.
Just five evening workouts lowered cholesterol levels and improved other signs, notably blood sugar levels as the men slept that night. In 2019, separate research with mice found that their performance on treadmills was 50 percent better, on average, if they were tested at the end of an active period, the equivalent of a mouse‘s evening. In a companion study with 12 people, the volunteers who exercised in the evening used less oxygen than morning exercisers.
If you’re too tired to exercise after work
Any exercise is better than no exercise, so if you can more easily enjoy morning workouts, keep them up!
When to exercise if you have insomnia
If you have insomnia, don’t exercise within four hours of bedtime. But high-intensity exercise in the afternoon and early evening may help you fall asleep at night. If you fall asleep easily but wake up during the night, the Sleep Foundation advises resistance training or light aerobics in the early evening.
Experiment to find an exercise schedule that works for you.
Can I burn off a heavy meal by an evening walk?
Walking is great for you, but it won’t cancel out your indulgence. Although the Australian researchers found that evening exercise cut the damaging effects of the high-fat diet, it included high-intensity cycling, not just walks.
If I exercise in the evening, will I lose weight?
Exercise also is not a sure path towards losing weight, which requires burning more calories than you consume. Many people eat more if they exercise, winding up with a calorie balance sheet that doesn’t lead to dropping pounds. Exercise, however, is better than any drug, with huge benefits for your health. It helps prevent cancer, improves blood pressure, and cholesterol and blood sugar levels. It also boosts your sleep and mood.
February 02, 2022
Janet O’Dell, RN