Exercise Timing and Blood Sugar: Benefits of Evening Exercise

  • New research points to the benefits of exercise timing on blood sugar regulation, pointing to evening exercise as the best option.
  • Researchers say to focus on moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise done after 6 p.m. to lower blood glucose levels.

Although blood sugar control is essential for those with diabetes, it’s also key for maintaining health overall. Research indicates that blood sugar levels can affect a range of physical functions, including hormone regulation, body composition, digestive processes, and even cognitive health.

That’s why keeping control of blood glucose levels is important, and one way to help might include doing moderate- to vigorous-intensity exercise in the evening, according to a new study in Obesity.

Researchers looked at 186 men and women who were overweight or had obesity and were diagnosed with at least one metabolic impairment, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Over a 14-day period, researchers tracked their physical activity and glucose levels, along with the time of day for exercise. Morning exercise was defined as before noon, with afternoon exercise between noon and 6:00 p.m, and evening exercise after that.

At the end of the two weeks, those who did more than 50 percent of their exercise in the evening had significantly lower glucose levels compared to those who were sedentary, and better glucose regulation than participants who mainly exercised in the mornings or afternoons.

The effects were especially notable for those who’d struggled with regulating their blood sugar before participating in the study, according to co-author Antonia Clavero Jimeno, Ph.D.(c), researcher in the department of physical education and sports at the University of Granada in Spain.

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Although the study participants were specifically chosen based on metabolic factors and sedentary behavior, he told Bicycling that previous evidence has shown that the results might be the same for those without those factors, and who already exercise regularly.

“In fact, the impact of both physical activity volume and timing for glycemic control may be amplified in those with higher activity levels,” he said.

That’s backed up by previous research looking at active people who were assessed for blood sugar changes based on when they exercised. In that study, published in 2022, those who performed moderate-to-vigorous activity in the afternoon had 18 percent lower insulin resistance compared to morning exercisers, and the evening group fared even better, with a 25 percent reduction in insulin resistance.

One factor that was not explored in either study was the role of dietary changes, and this is an area that needs more research, said Clavero Jimeno. Determining whether a strategy like time-restricted eating—also called intermittent fasting—would be helpful or harmful to glucose regulation when paired with evening exercise is a next step, and is already being studied by Clavero Jimeno and his team.

“Dietary intake is, of course, recognized as crucial for glycemic control, and may influence the results overall,” he said. “But in the absence of that information, this current study does emphasize that if you want better control of your glucose levels, evening exercise, done at a higher intensity, may be beneficial.”

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Elizabeth Millard is a freelance writer focusing on health, wellness, fitness, and food. 

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