Earlier this fall, we learned that walking after meals for just two minutes (yes, really!) can have a substantial impact on blood sugar. But beyond sprinkling little “nuggets” of activity as a dessert, researchers are still searching to learn more about the best methods, times of day and levels of exercise intensity that might affect – and potentially help us better manage – our blood sugar levels.
While you may think it only matters for people with diabetes or those at higher risk, blood sugar levels are actually important for all humans to stay balanced. It’s normal for everyone to have our blood sugar rise and fall throughout the day. Under normal conditions, our body is able to let sugar from the blood into our cells, bringing blood levels back into a normal range. When blood sugar is high, our pancreas secretes insulin, which signals our body to either absorb glucose from the blood to use as energy now or store it in the liver as glycogen for fuel later. This process decreases the amount of sugar in the blood. Not to mention that a fairly stable blood sugar level is beneficial for maintaining balanced and sustained energy levels from morning to night.
For people with prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance can alter the body’s response to blood sugar; the cells stop responding to insulin and the glucose stays outside the cells. As a result, blood sugar remains elevated. With about 1 in 10 Americans now diagnosed with type 2 and an additional 38% meeting the criteria for prediabetes, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, scientists are eager to learn more about the best ways to make mountains blood sugar rollers an easier and smoother ride.
A new study published on November 1, 2022 in the journal Diabetology adds a fascinating piece of evidence to that aspect of exercise we mentioned earlier. Apparently the “what” (exercise) makes a difference, as does the “when”. Exercising in the afternoon or evening, ideally between noon and midnight, can significantly reduce insulin resistance and may be more effective in controlling blood sugar levels than morning exercise.
Read on to learn more about this new health study and to discover other ways to balance your blood sugar.
Related: What you need to know about physical activity and diabetes
What this blood sugar study revealed
The Dutch Obesity Epidemiology Study is a database of adults aged 45-65 with a body mass index of 27 or higher. (Before we go any further, note that the validity and relevance of BMI as a health indicator is in question, but since it determined eligibility for this study, we wanted to mention it.)
For this research, the scientists invited all participants with a body size representative of their region in the Netherlands to be part of a control group; this ultimately resulted in 6,700 attendees. All of these people underwent a physical examination, which involved blood glucose samples that tabulated blood sugar and insulin levels during fasting and after eating. They also completed lifestyle factor questionnaires, and some had their liver fat content measured via an MRI.
From this group, the researchers randomly selected 955 people to wear an accelerometer and heart rate monitor for four days and nights to track activity levels and general movement patterns. To categorize when to exercise, scientists broke the day into six-hour blocks:
6 a.m. to noon
Noon to 6 p.m.
6 p.m. to midnight
Based on the activity trackers, the scientists sorted each participant into one of these blocks based on when they accumulated the most moderate to most vigorous physical activity. At the end of data collection, 755 participants were included in the analysis.
Related: These are the 5 best exercises for your health, according to a Harvard doctor
Those who exercised in the afternoon experienced an 18% decrease in insulin resistance, and evening activity was correlated with a 25% reduction in insulin resistance. Activity spread throughout the day or activity performed only in the morning does not appear to impact liver fat content and insulin resistance, unlike physical activity afterwards. -noon and evening.
In addition to insulin’s impact on blood sugar control, the other way glucose can enter cells is through exercise. Muscles need energy when we move and challenge them. To fuel us enough to perform the tasks we ask them to do, our bodies allow glucose to creep into muscle cells.
Scientists admit that it’s too early in the information-gathering process to explain exactly why afternoon and evening exercise performed better than morning exercise. They also need to prove whether changing the timing of exercise from morning to afternoon or evening will improve activity, or if there is something else about those with this PM habit that could move the needle.
This new study found that exercising in the afternoon and evening may offer the greatest benefits for blood sugar control. While it’s worth keeping this in mind, it’s vital to note that this is just one study, and quite a small one. Larger and more diverse research is needed to validate these results. Moreover, the most important moral of the story is that activity at ANY time of the day is beneficial. In fact, morning exercise might actually be your best option if you find it difficult to fit exercise into your daily routine. (Translation: Early risers, keep up the great work if you like that yoga class or that 6 a.m. walk!)
Keep in mind that exercise is just one of many healthy ways to lower your blood sugar. Sleep, hormones, medications, and other sneaky factors can also impact blood sugar. What’s on our plate of course has the biggest impact, so we recommend that you sprinkle these 29 recipes to help control blood sugar into your meal plan as well.
Next: These Are The Fastest Ways To Stabilize Your Blood Sugar If You Have Diabetes
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