How has the lockdown impacted your exercise routine? Some of you might have taken up running, signed up for online classes and others might have given exercise a total break for now – or at least until the gyms are opening up again.

This month I want to talk to you a bit about how my exercise routine has changed and how I have tweaked my exercise sessions during this period while I have been working exclusively from home.

This is a piece of advice I normally withhold, because many of us are office based and it becomes a bit of a moot point, but I’ve tweaked the timing of my exercise sessions.

Our nervous system: Sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system

I want to explain to you why I have tweaked the timing of my session. The optimal time to do a harder or more exerting exercise session is actually the afternoon. It is roughly between 2pm and 4pm or thereabouts. And the reasons for that are our nervous systems in the morning are already primed for the day ahead, and it isn’t very good to jack up what we call the sympathetic nervous system (also known as “fight or flight”) first thing in the morning.

It is better to start our day with an activity that is more parasympathetic (also referred to as “rest and digest”) dominant. In other words, something that is more gentle, more restorative. A dog walk, for example, or some time out in the parks, nature, woodland or even bouncing up and down. So I now start my day in a gentle way to drain what’s called the lymphatic system and get the body moving for the day. But intense hard exercise isn’t ideal first thing in the morning. Now, for many people, that is the only time they could have got it done. And if that is the case, no worries.

Flexibility around our working day

Now we’ve got more flexibility around our working day, my recommendation is to start the day with something more gentle and restorative, and do that harder workout at around 2pm or 3pm or 4pm, maybe 5pm in the afternoon. And that is what I have been doing. I have been doing the gentle dog walk in the morning, doing the bulk of my work, and then putting my hard exercise session in, or my more exerting demanding session in at around 4pm or 5pm, something like that.

Grip strength, protein and hormones

The physiological reasons for why that is, is that our grip strength, our protein synthesis, our testosterone and various other hormones that get us really primed for the toughest stuff peak in the afternoon. Numerous studies have demonstrated that that is the best time to do that kind of demanding exercise session. So, if you can, why don’t give this a try? Perhaps you’ll feel differently or perhaps you’ll see further improvements in your workouts.

This article first appeared in the July issue of SE22 magazine.