Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness and nutrition courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+.
Does this sound like you? You hit snooze at least three times before you finally drag yourself out of bed, and your day doesn’t really start until you down a Venti bold from Starbucks.
Even if you’ve been set in this pattern for as long as you can remember, it’s never too late to switch up your routine so you can bounce out of bed for a change and finally become an energetic morning person. Besides actually greeting co-workers with a smile instead of a snarl on your face first thing in the a.m., you’ll experience a host of other benefits by becoming an early riser.
Ahead of the Curve
When you accomplish something early on, such as your workout, it not only jump-starts your day, but your thinking becomes more clear. “There is research linking morning exercise with productivity among executives,” says Denice Ferko-Adams, RD, LDN, director of the MacDonald Center for Obesity Prevention and Education at Villanova University.
It’s also about time management. “First thing in the morning is the only time that you know won’t be compromised by something else,” says exercise physiologist Bryan Bergman, PhD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado. That’s huge for exercise adherence, he says. The vague notion of “not having time” is a major reason that people cite for giving up on their exercise programs. The great news is that morning is an equal-opportunity time: any exercise you can do in the afternoon or evening you can also do in the morning, provided that you warm up and cool down just as you normally would, says Bergman.
Benefits Of Not Hitting Snooze
After a workout, you will continue to burn calories, which means that front-loading your day is a good way to get your metabolism started on the right track. But more than measurable metabolic effects, morning exercise creates a distinct mindset that inspires you to live the Oxygen lifestyle. “Exercising first thing turns the lens to having a healthy day,” says Lauren Slayton, RD, director of Foodtrainers, a New York City–based nutrition counseling center that teaches people — including athletes — how to make healthier eating choices. You are more likely to eat healthy on days when you start your day with exercise because you are already in the mindset. If you make the commitment to get up at 5:30 a.m., you will be less likely to “undo” all of that hard work with poor eating.
There may also be some more tangible physical benefits to hitting the gym in the morning. Research from Appalachian State University (ASU) suggests that exercising within an hour of waking (the study participants began sweating at 7 a.m.) produces better-quality sleep than working out in the afternoon or evening hours. In fact, a related ASU study revealed that morning sweat sessions helped blood pressure dip during sleep better than afternoon or evening exercise. “Nocturnal dipping in blood pressure is one way that we reset, or lower, our normal operating pressures; if we do not experience a dip in blood pressure at night, we increase our risk for heart disease,” explains study author Scott Collier, PhD, assistant professor at ASU.
Change Your Sleep Routine
Forcing yourself to go to bed earlier is probably not going to work, says trainer Nicole Nichols, creator of the SparkPeople: 28-Day Boot Camp DVD, who successfully transitioned to morning exercise herself. “Let your body adjust naturally,” she suggests. That first morning will be tough — forge ahead, because by night, you will be tired earlier; you’ll go to bed 15 minutes earlier, and it will be 15 minutes’ worth easier to get up, and so on. If you let it, within a week or so, your body will have adjusted to the new schedule, and you’ll be going to bed earlier naturally.
Also, consider skipping the afternoon caffeine kick, suggests Ferko-Adams, and be careful of eating too heavy of an evening meal — both can interfere with your sleep. Most importantly, don’t stress about it, she says. Putting too much pressure on yourself to get to sleep earlier will only stress you out and, ultimately, make it more difficult for you to actually fall asleep. Take 15 to 20 minutes and meditate at night to relax your body and get yourself in the right frame of mind for the next day. Once you’re comfortable with it, meditate for up to 30 minutes at night.
Preload Your Decisions
You can’t just have a goal of exercising in the mornings — you need action triggers: decisions you make ahead of time about the actions you will take in a specific situation. Chip Heath and Dan Heath, authors of Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, call it “preloading the decision.” You don’t just make a decision to do something; you give yourself triggers to get it done — from your overall plan (“I will run the four-mile loop that starts on Locust Avenue”), to all of the smaller cues, like, “When the alarm goes off, I will get up and put on my sports bra,” and “When I walk into the kitchen, I will grab my water bottle.” Research consistently shows that when people set specific intentions by visualizing when and how they will perform a behavior, they commit to it more than when they simply set a general goal.
Your preloading begins the night before. “Create as few steps as possible,” advises Nichols. Prepare your breakfast ahead of time (pre- or postworkout, or both), pack your gym bag (keep a separate set of toiletries), and lay out your workout clothes in a visible area. If you’re working out at home, have all the equipment (your exercise ball and weights) ready to go. This way, when the alarm sounds before the crack of dawn, you can rub the sleep out of your eyes, breathe deeply into those early-morning yawns, and get a fit start on your day. You’ll feel brighter, more alert, and be well on your way before the rest of the world has even had their Starbucks.
Calm Your Mind Before Bed
Try this meditation technique before calling it a night:
- Find a quiet spot where you will be able to relax, such as your bedroom. Dim the lights if necessary.
- Sit in a comfortable position on the floor (use a cushion or mat if needed), with your eyes closed and hands resting in your lap.
- Focus on the rhythm of your breathing, counting each breath as you exhale. Count to 10, then repeat. Continue counting until you are feeling relaxed.
- Inhale, taking deep breaths from your belly. Exhale, letting them out through your nose.
- If distracting thoughts enter your mind, acknowledge them, but gently let them go. Focus on your breathing.
- Perform this meditation for five to 10 minutes to start, and increase your time as you become more comfortable with it.