Why in the morning?
"Exercise in the morning helps to get your metabolism going, burning more calories throughout the day," says Dr David Geier. It also ensures that you'll actually fit in your sweat session. "Often in the course of a busy day, events come up that end up squeezing out your workout time," Geier says. He explains that consistently working out in the morning makes it a habit, probably more so than trying to fit in exercise at different times every day.
Here's the thing about exercise: We are all super busy and there are always other things we could be doing, so unless you make exercise a priority—say, put it on the calendar like a meeting—then it won't happen. I decided to treat my morning workouts like a work assignment.
As a freelancer, I sometimes go into different offices for project work, two or three days a week, and sometimes I work at home. On the days I went into an office, I booked a morning sitter to deal with the kids (get them up, dressed, fed and to school), so I could hit the gym before work. Some people would think this was crazy. Why would I pay $40 to a sitter for two hours ($20 an hour is the going rate in my town) in order to hit the gym? But for me, it's totally worth it. First, mornings are a mess in our house—the kids don't want to get up or get dressed, so it's like pulling teeth to get them to eat their breakfast and be at school on time—so outsourcing those two hours was a wonderful gift to myself. Second, I've always been an early-morning person, so getting up at 5:30 or 6 AM isn't difficult for me. I feel my best in the morning, and a gym workout only enhances that feeling.
The days I worked from home, it was harder to justify paying a sitter to take my kids in the morning, so instead, I worked out while my husband and kids were still sleeping. Our gym opens at 5:30 AM, and my family rarely gets up before 6:30 or 7, so I would set the alarm, throw on my workout clothes, and sneak out the door. Often, I'd get back before anyone got up, or I would walk in just as they were awakening.
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Someone once told me that working out first thing in the morning was like walking around with a secret, and that's exactly how I felt. No matter how crappy the day was (I didn't get an assignment I was hoping for, or the kids were being particularly challenging), there was always that silver lining: I started the day by working out. And it turns out experts agree with me.
"The benefits of exercising in the morning include feeling accomplished and good about yourself because you were actually able to make this happen," says psychologist Yvonne Thomas. "Other benefits of exercising in the morning are that you can be more dynamic—physically, cognitively and emotionally."
Things that would normally raise my blood pressure (a work deadline got moved up, my kids lost their library books), seemed more manageable. I felt like I was better able to put things in perspective, perhaps due to my more positive outlook. Thomas notes that by starting the day with exercise, you're more focused and balanced. "Exercising in the beginning of the day can help decrease some negative feelings and thoughts that can get in your way as the day goes on, making you feel less depressed, anxious, stressed, overwhelmed, sad or angry."
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It really is true: Working out makes you sleep like a baby. In fact, a recent study even showed that working out at 7 AM was better for your sleep than working out at 7 PM, or at 1 PM for that matter. Why?
"We don't yet know the physiological mechanisms that result in these changes, but we do know enough to say if you need to decrease your blood pressure and if you need to increase your quality of sleep, 7 AM is probably the best time to exercise," says the study's lead researcher Scott Collier.
During the month of my morning exercise experiment, I slept beautifully. I was in bed by 9 PM (at the latest), and my mind somehow knew it was time to shut down for the day—it didn't race or constantly add things to my to-do list like normal. I was generally out as soon as I pulled up the covers. And I needed to be, in order to make my 5:30 wake-up call. (Want to become a morning runner? Here's how you can do it.)
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I'm happy to say I never missed a morning workout during my experiment, though I did listen to my body and go easier on the days I needed it. I just knew that if I skipped a day I'd fall off the wagon, though I know doctors recommend rest days every now and then to let your muscles recover. Since the month ended, I've kept up my new early morning routine. The benefits were just too good to go back—plus, I lost 2 kilos. Not too shabby.