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The Best Time of Day

continued...

Skip "lunch" in favor of two mini-meals (of about 300 calories each). Eat the first one three hours following breakfast and the second about three hours after that to keep your blood sugar steady and your metabolism fired up. Time the second mini-meal to coincide with the low of that afternoon slump we mentioned — so, between 2 and 3 p.m. "You feel tired, and it's difficult to stay mindful, so you start putting stupid things in your mouth," says Pamela Peeke, M.D., author of Fit to Live: The 5 Point Plan to Be Lean, Strong, and Fearless for Life. "But having a bunch of fat and refined sugars is the worst thing you can do, because your energy will spike and then crash." Instead, go for lean protein, high-quality carbohydrates, and a bit of fat. Peeke's picks: 1 Tbsp of low-fat peanut butter on a pita, half a turkey wrap, or some low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese with fruit.

Get moving. Late afternoon to early evening (5 to 6 p.m.) may just be the best time to exercise, because that's when you're hottest, literally. Your body temperature reaches its daily peak (2 to 3 degrees warmer than in the morning), giving you maximum muscle strength, flexibility, agility, and stamina as well as faster reaction times. Even your lungs are using oxygen more efficiently at this time. You'll work out harder with less perceived effort and are less likely to injure yourself. Of course, any exercise is better than none, so if an early workout fits best with your schedule, keep it there. In fact, a.m. exercisers are most likely to stick to their habit: Studies have shown that more than 90 percent of people who work out in the morning are consistent about doing it.

At Night

Down a glass of cranberry. You've probably heard that compounds in cranberry juice can help prevent urinary-tract infections. If you drink a glass in the evening, the juice will hang out in the bladder, fighting bacteria, till morning. Sip a cup after sex for extra protection: The juice can keep bacteria that's been pushed up the urethra during intercourse from sticking to bladder walls.

Invite the night. Preparation for bedtime should start well before you brush your teeth. Wind down any exercise three hours before bed to give your body temperature a chance to cool and signal the brain that it's sleep time. Also close the kitchen (and the bar) two to four hours in advance, since it takes that long for your stomach to empty of solid foods; doing so will help you avoid indigestion and acid reflux. Aim for an undivided seven to eight hours of sleep every night. And because environmental factors, from bright moonlight to fluorescent street lamps, can disrupt cues to your internal clock, it's best to keep the room dark — no night-lights, no neon alarm clocks, and certainly no flashing cell phones. Your brain's pineal gland needs darkness to make melatonin, a hormone that tells your body to drift off (see "Bask in the morning light"). The pineal gland gets confused if it senses light, compromising your sleep quality. Melatonin also has been linked to improved immunity and lower risk of cancer.

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