If on one hand there is constant bombardment of health advice to work out regularly, on the other, there is a struggle to fit in everything along exercise in 24 hours! Consequently, we are often either left with odd hours to squeeze in a quick workout, or to not work out at all.
Now, this begs the question, what exactly is an odd hour for a workout? Is right before bedtime an odd hour? Or is it the afternoon? We get experts to answer.
If you are somebody who is up at dawn with the birds, raring to go on their Yoga mat, this piece is not for you. For everyone else, please read on.
What Happens if You Work Out Before Bedtime?
Is a workout before bedtime better than no workout at all? Dr Tarun Lala, Zonal Head, Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Medicine Unit, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Saket, New Delhi, says that working out at an odd hour isn't the best, but certainly better than no workouts at all. It'll at least keep your body active and at its best.
However, it’s important to not let it be a very intense workout if it is close to bedtime. Dr Lala recommends light stretches and other relaxing positions that will enable you to sleep better.
“An intense workout before bedtime will definitely disrupt the sleep cycle as it can leave your heart rate high and your body dehydrated, in turn, increasing stress hormones,” says Dr Tarun Lala
Let’s delve deeper with Dr (Prof) Amite Pankaj Aggarwal, Director and HOD Orthopedics, Fortis Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, New Delhi.
“Exercise enters you into an activated state that makes it harder to fall asleep temporarily. Though its impact on sleep varies from person to person and is dependent on many factors, including your own sleep-wake cycle, or the circadian rhythm, it is still capable of affecting it notably. This natural 24-hour-cycle of changes in the body regulates sleep, as well as hormones and body temperature."Dr Amite Pankaj Aggarwal
"The sense of feeling physically sleepy occurs with this drop in body temperature, so, things that influence body temperature also influence sleep. Raising the core body temperature too close to sleep produces stimulation and interferes with sleep,” he says.
Is a Workout After an Early Dinner Alright?
Dr Lala answers this succinctly, “Working out a couple of hours after an early dinner is absolutely okay, given that it isn't a heavy meal and the workout doesn't follow the meal immediately after.”
Dr Aggarwal adds to it in the following manner:
"Previously, people have followed a pattern of having heavy meals during the day and light meals for dinner, or skipping dinner altogether. I don’t believe in this, having a balanced amount of calories is more important during the whole day."
"Having said that, it should also be noted that many people that cannot wake up early, go to the gym after dinner in the evening. There is no harm in doing this, as long as you have a sustainable balanced diet and adequate sleep."
When is the Best Time to Work Out?
All of this discussion brings us to the age-old question – when truly is the best time to work out for an average, healthy adult? Is it (the dreaded) early morning? If the idea of skimping on some last few precious minutes of sleep makes your heart sink, Dr Lala has words of comfort to offer.
“Morning workouts do work ideally, but an afternoon workout can definitely boost the performance as the energy from the meals stay high.”Dr Tarun Lala
However, the advantages of a morning workout still need to be emphasised for you to be able to make a more informed choice.
“Due to our busy work schedules and hectic lifestyles, at times we get exhausted from our day and are unable to complete our workout in the evening. We also have other commitments to live up to, be it work or personal,” Dr Aggarwal says.
Having said that, however, the doctor has a very important piece of advice for you - one size DOES NOT fit all.
“It’s important to keep in mind that the best workout is the one that you actually perform. So, to each their own, one should do whatever is sustainable for them. One size does not fit all, it is highly dependent on each individual’s lifestyle and schedule,” Dr Aggarwal says.
"For example, some people work night shifts. After a night shift they may not prefer to workout in the morning. It may be more practical for them to workout before work in the evening. These aspects have to be tailored to each Individual’s schedule," he adds.
There, solved! Now that you can no longer use snoozing as an excuse to skip workouts, and experts have advised that with some basic precautions like spacing out meals, your workouts timings can also be more flexible, are you more likely to hit the exercise mat?
Disclaimer: Please do not start or change your exercise routine without the supervision of a health expert.
(Rosheena Zehra is a published author and media professional. You can find out more about her work here.)