Exercise is one of the most well-studied methods for improving glucose control, increasing insulin sensitivity, and preventing the onset of future chronic disease — which are just a few reasons we’re such big fans [1, 2, 3].
Exercise, both in the short and long term, is crucial for improving and maintaining your metabolic health.
But how long should a session be? And what type of exercise is best? And what about recovery?
Don’t worry — we’ve got you covered.
1. Take a walk after meals.
Walking is a great low-intensity aerobic exercise. Walking after a meal has the power to curb glucose spikes and keep your blood sugar within a healthy range.
When you eat a meal or snack with carbohydrates and then sit on the couch for a while, your blood sugar levels will rise from the food, and it takes a minute for insulin action to kick in and bring that glucose back down. If you ate something especially high in refined carbs, this might mean a significant glucose spike that leaves you feeling lethargic and unfocused.
Try this: Instead of staying seated, take a brisk walk after meals. Research shows that as little as 2 minutes of walking can significantly curb that post-meal spike — though 15-30 minutes may be best for keeping your glucose in a healthy range .
2. Hit the weights.
While all types of exercise are great for metabolic health, incorporating strength training into your routine can make a big impact on your insulin response and blood glucose.
Resistance training is the most efficient at helping you to lose fat mass and retain muscle mass, which improves your body composition, increases your calorie burn at rest, improves glucose absorption into muscles, and regulates blood glucose. It can also help lower triglyceride levels and reduce waist circumference — two critical markers of metabolic syndrome .
Try this: Aim for 1 hour or two 30-minute sessions of resistance training per week. Studies show that just 1 hour of resistance training can reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome by 17% .
3. Don’t skip recovery.
If you’re new to working out or adding to your existing fitness routine, you’ll likely experience sore muscles and fatigue, which are your body's natural inflammatory response.
Post-workout recovery — especially if you’re exercising for multiple consecutive days — is crucial for seeing progress and avoiding injury.
Try this: If you’re working out intensely (>60 minutes), try to have a meal that combines protein and carbs to replenish glycogen stores and help muscle recovery . Also, consider a muscle recovery tool, which has been shown to reduce muscle pain, stiffness, and risk of injury. If you’re not sure where to start, there are plenty of videos with various routines for recovery.
4. Consider exercise timing.
Exercise is effective at improving health at any time of day, but there’s research to suggest that time of day may make a difference, depending on your goals.
Research has suggested that early morning exercise may be more effective for weight loss, while evening workouts may be more effective for lowering cholesterol and overnight blood glucose control [9, 10].
Try this: Experiment with exercise timing, and see whether morning or afternoon agrees best with how you feel, energy levels, and glucose levels if you have a CGM. If your goal is weight loss, stick to morning workouts, and if you are concerned about cholesterol levels and lowering your morning fasting glucose levels, stick to afternoon workouts.
Find what works best for you
No matter what the research suggests, exercising at a time that makes the most sense for your schedule — like going for walk before the kids wake up or hitting the gym on the way home from work — is going to help you be successful in the long term with new habits. Low barriers to completing a new habit make the habit easier to complete and, therefore, continue to stick to.
Setting new exercise goals doesn’t have to be daunting. Keep in mind that when it comes to exercise and metabolic health improvements, a little goes a long way — so start small, and work your way up to longer sessions or heavier weights over time.
Exercise doesn’t have to be a chore, and neither does improving your health. Pick a type of exercise you like, which you’ll be most likely to stick to. Consistent exercise is going to be the most effective for protecting and preserving your health and feeling your very best.