Too Busy To Workout? Science Has The Answers To Help You Hack Time And Get Healthier

If exercise was a pill then every doctor would be handing out prescriptions like candy. From protecting against heart disease, to reducing bodyfat, to improving your mood, most of us realise the benefits of working out – it just that it sometimes seems there aren’t enough hours in the day. When you combine schedules more packed than the front row of a Foo Fighters’ gig, with exercise ‘gurus’ spouting advice to ‘avoiding working out in the evening’, or ‘do at least 30 minutes’, then it can seem that a healthy lifestyle is a luxury for the lucky few.

Fortunately, science says that’s bullshit! A bundle of new studies have revealed how you can arrange your workouts to suit your own, individual timeframes and still reap the benefits. Here’s what RSNG discovered…

Fifteen Minutes Is Enough
You often hear of people setting their alarm clocks one or even two hours earlier in order to workout before work. The problem with this is that you probably aren’t getting enough sleep already, making this hack unsustainable – and good workout gains are all about long-term consistency, rather than ‘miracle’ plans that boomerang you right back to square one.

So, what’s the solution? Micro-workouts, that’s what. A 2019 study (by University Of Glasgow, published in Experimental Physiology) gave a group of overweight men a 15-minute high-intensity resistance exercise workout to do three times a week, for six weeks. They did one set each of nine traditional weight-lifting exercises, such as leg press, at 80% of their maximum single rep lift.

‘A 15-minute weights workout was enough to build muscle and increase insulin sensitivity’

The results of doing this super-quick blast, possibly on the way to the sandwich shop for lunch, were surprising: not only did the mens’ muscle size and strength increase throughout the six weeks, but their insulin sensitivity also increased by 16%, making them heart-healthier and less likely to put on bodyfat. So, the bros in the gym who claim you need at least an hour to workout properly are flat wrong on this one.

Evening Workouts Don’t Ruin Your Sleep
Working out requires willpower, and willpower is finite. You can put a workout in your diary for after work, but then you have a trying day, end up working late and your willpower is running on fumes. Then someone tells you that working out in the evening will mess up your sleep; willpower fails and Netflix wins.

Fortunately, science has revealed this exercise rule to be bogus. A 2019 study at Charles Sturt University in Australia gave a group of men a very high-intensity cycling sprint intervals workout to do in the morning, the afternoon and at 7-9pm. Their blood was then tested and sleep monitored during each regime. It turned out that they slept fine – evening exercise had no impact on shut-eye. And a bonus of evening workouts was that the hunger hormone ghrelin was reduced, helping the men to avoid weight gain from overeating.

What’s more the mens’ workout performance held a surprise. ‘Power output during the sprint efforts was higher for the afternoon and evening trials compared to the morning trial, indicating that participants were able to perform better during the latter parts of the day,’ says Penelope Larsen, lead author of the study. So working out later could actually be better and fast track you to gains. But remember to re-fuel properly after workouts to maximise these – going to bed hungry definitely won’t help your sleep.

‘Exercising early in the morning moves your body clock forwards’

Exercise Can Reset Your Body Clock
Travel can really mess with your schedule, and the first thing that seems to bite the dust is exercise. Stepping off a plane from a different time zone, going to bed late after travelling, or working anti-social hours can really impact on your energy levels. You could just see this as inevitable and suffer the disruptive consequences, or you can fight back by tactically scheduling your workouts.

Scientists at the University of California, San Diego and Arizona State University have discovered that exercising at certain time of the day can shift your 24-hour circadian body clock backwards and forwards. The 2019 study found that exercising at 7am advances your body clock forwards, while exercising between 7pm and 10pm moves it back to an earlier time. The exercisers did a moderate one-hour run or walk on a treadmill, for three consecutive days and their melatonin levels were monitored to track the rise that happens every evening.

Keep It Up
What we do know about exercise is that consistency is key. You only get stronger, fitter and achieve a healthier weight through progressive overload. For instance, slightly increasing one of your resistance workout’s parameters – such as total reps or weight lifted – each time you go to the gym is excellent progressive overload. But you can’t achieve this if you keep missing workouts; you’ll go backwards, in fact, and that’s a mindset killer.

So, be realistic. Start a workout regime you know you can stick to, and don’t feel pressured to do more, or workout for longer. As we’ve seen, exercise intensity combined with consistency trumps epic sessions in the gym. Even if your schedule is all over the place there are ways to work an impromptu micro-workout into your day – try carrying resistance bands in your bag, or keeping running shoes at work for quick sprint sessions – shift your mindset and you’ll soon reap the benefits.

WHAT NEXT? Want some resistance training tips to get you inspired? Eddie Hall, the man who lifted the single biggest weight in human history reveals his ‘Six Golden Rules Of The Weights Room’ here.

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Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.