For the majority of my life, I’ve claimed not to be a “morning person.” I’ve also never worked out consistently, probably because, as San Francisco-based personal trainer Bianca Buresh says, “You have to be a very disciplined person if you’re going to leave it to the end of the day.” I can’t fathom how some people can get out of bed—voluntarily, no less—in the early morning hours to exercise. Exercise is hard enough without the added lure of a warm, cozy bed.
But I made a goal for myself a few months ago to give morning exercise a try after hearing glowing reviews from my friends—“I have so much more energy,” “I feel better about myself throughout the day.” Five months later, I wholeheartedly concur.
Exercising at any time of day is beneficial. But as a recent convert, I believe there are more positive outcomes of morning exercise compared to working out later at night. If you can make the commitment to get out of bed a little earlier than usual, you might find that it rewards other parts of your life besides cardiovascular health.
1. Better Performance at Work
It’s no secret that a hard workout can decrease our stress levels. When we begin our day by exercising, the depletion of stress, however slight, can make us more focused, more energized, and ready to tackle the day’s responsibilities. Working out increases blood flow to the brain and gives us a more alert mind—so morning exercise is great preparation for helping us successfully get through our day.
Similarly, a study at the Leeds Metropolitan University found that workers were significantly more productive and better able to communicate effectively with coworkers after exercising than on the days that they didn’t exercise. Imagine arriving at work more focused, in a better mood, and mentally equipped to tackle the day. You might even be able to skip that first cup of coffee.
Isabel Hartman, a financial analyst in San Francisco and a self-described morning exercise enthusiast, thinks the study’s findings are right on target based on her experience and says her morning workout energizes her. “It makes my day less stressful, and I feel more motivated all day long,” she says.
2. A Metabolism Boost Throughout the Day
Exercise causes our metabolic rate to increase—meaning our body burns calories more quickly and efficiently—for approximately four to eight hours after a workout. However, the boost could be more beneficial in the morning because the spike lasts throughout the day. If you exercise at night, you’ll still reap the benefits of the boost, but for a shorter period because you’ll probably be sleeping relatively soon after a night workout, which would lead to a slower metabolic rate. Not only that, but people who exercise in the morning tend to make better diet choices throughout the day. Hartman agrees: “It really sets the course for my day, as far as sticking to a healthy eating plan.”
3. A Better Night’s Sleep
There is a reason other than a longer-lasting metabolic boost to exercise earlier in the day—our sleep health. A study at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center found that the participants who exercised in the mornings experienced a better quality of sleep than those who worked out later in the day. Early workouts can also help regulate our body’s internal clock. The morning surge of energy sends a signal to the brain that reinforces daytime hours as a time for activity, and nighttime as being a period of rest. Working out too close to bedtime (the Sleep Foundation’s Web site recommends no closer than two or three hours before) can disrupt that signal. By exercising in the morning, our evenings can become a time for decompression after working, which is good for our emotional health as well.
4. Increased Likelihood to Stick with It
The number one reason most people give for not exercising daily is “I don’t have time.” But waiting until later in the day to exercise increases the likelihood that something will come up and get in the way of the workout. For example, a plan for a lunchtime jog can be pushed back for an impromptu lunch meeting. And after working all day, the likelihood of wanting to spend an hour at the gym decreases for most of us. Buresh explains, “The more time you have to think, the more time you have to make excuses.” The best solution is to wake up a little earlier and get it over with at the beginning of the day, before any other distractions arise. “Once it’s a part of your routine,” Buresh says. “It becomes easy.” A study at the University of Texas confirms this—researchers found that morning exercisers were more consistent than afternoon or evening exercisers.
5. A Happier Outlook
One reason that exercise reduces stress is because it signals the release of endorphins, chemicals that elevate mood and decrease pain levels. It’s like a natural dose of morphine, our body’s way of compensating for the stress we put on it while exercising. Think of it as a reward—ever heard of runner’s high? Some consider the rush of endorphins to be a euphoric experience, while others feel a general calmness after working out. Starting out the day with an energy boost and higher spirits will have even more positive, lasting effects on the rest of the day. Researchers at Glasgow University concluded that people who exercised in the morning experienced more of a dramatic increase in feelings of well being than those who exercised later in the day.
One thing is certain: whether we exercise in the morning, afternoon, or at night, we’re doing something wonderful for our minds and bodies. But we shouldn’t ignore the advantages of getting an early start on working out because we don’t think we can make it a routine. The extra benefits of joining the morning exercise club may be motivation enough to throw off the blankets and start our day on a healthy, active note.