The best time of day to exercise is ultimately one that suits your individual lifestyle, sleeping habits and preferences. After all, squeezing in a workout at 7pm because you couldn’t resist a lie-in is always going to be a better option than skipping it altogether.
That said, there are a whole host of benefits associated with ditching the snooze button and getting your workout done first thing.
With advice from personal trainer James Stark, co-founder of Starks Fitness, we present 16 compelling reasons to hit the gym before 9am:
16 benefits of working out in the morning
The first few hours in the morning set the tone for the rest of your day. Here are 16 morning workout benefits that might just convince you to set your alarm extra-early tomorrow morning:
1. Fewer distractions
When you first wake up, you’re totally unplugged from the world and haven’t yet turned your attention to your daily to-do list. For an hour or two hours, freedom from work and social commitments means you can focus more intently on your workout.
Plus, when you exercise in the morning, you’re less likely to be interrupted by phone calls, texts, emails, Instagram notifications, tweets, Facebook messages...
2. Reduced appetite
It may sound counter-intuitive, but a morning workout helps to banish food cravings. A study by Brigham Young University found that 45 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise in the morning actually reduces a person’s emotional response to pictures of food. Not only were participants less tempted by the food, but they didn’t eat more food to make up for the extra calories they burned while exercising.
3. Increased overall activity
Far from completely wearing you out, working out in the morning can inspire you to move more throughout the day. In the same study, participants showed an increase in total physical activity on the days they worked out in the morning. ‘Once you’ve passed the hurdle of getting to the gym, it will leave you in a better state of mind and more likely make you take the stairs rather than the lift,’ says Stark.
4. Increased fat-burning
Exercising on an empty stomach – sometimes referred to as ‘fasted cardio’ – isn’t for everyone, but if weight loss is your goal, it might just help you supercharge your fat-burning potential. In a study of 10 men, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, working out before breakfast was shown to burn up to 20 per cent more fat compared to working out in the afternoon or evening.
5. Improved decision making
Working out in the morning also gives your brain a boost. A morning bout of moderate-intensity exercise improves cognitive performance – like decision-making, attention and visual learning – across the day, according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. When participants added brief walking breaks over the course of an eight-hour day, they also saw a boost in short-term memory – even as little as three minutes every half an hour.
6. Fire up the brain
A morning workout may be a better match for your circadian rhythm, which involves the timed release of hormones such as cortisol. While it’s commonly known as the ‘stress hormone’, since it’s part of your body’s natural response to threats of harm or danger, cortisol’s role is to make you feel awake and alert. Typically, levels of the hormone increase in the morning – naturally peaking at around 8am – and dip in the evening.
7. Energy boost
Regular exercise is known to boost energy and reduce feelings of fatigue. In a study published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, researchers found that inactive people with persistent fatigue increased their perceived energy levels by 20 per cent and decreased fatigue by as much as 65 per cent by participating in regular exercise. By getting your workout in early, you’ll benefit from more energy throughout the day.
8. Mood boost
When you exercise, your body releases an array mood-boosting brain chemicals – including dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin and endorphins – which promotes a sense of wellbeing. Working out also balances your body’s level of stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. ‘Getting the body moving is a well-known way of boosting endorphins – the body’s feel-good hormones – ensuring that you are set up for a productive day,’ says Stark. ‘Coming out of the gym will leave you feeling in a more positive mood and ready to take on the day.’
9. Better food choices
Regular exercise can even change your food preferences and give you an appetite for fruits and vegetables. Analysis by Indiana University found that people who exercised for at least 30 minutes, five times or more a week ate the most fruit and vegetables, while those who exercised the least also ate the least. ‘Having already made the decision to get to the gym, you’re more likely to make the correct choices when it comes to food,’ says Stark.
10. Build muscle faster
Testosterone plays an important role in building and maintaining muscle mass and helping your body recover after a workout. It increases neurotransmitters, which encourage tissue growth; interacts with nuclear receptors in DNA, stimulating protein synthesis; and increases levels of growth hormone, which is essential for repairing muscles. Your testosterone levels are highest upon waking, so a morning workout will help you reap the benefits.
11. Better sleep
Where an evening workout is likely to rev you up before bed, boosting your heart rate and core temperature, a morning workout can help you get a better night’s kip. A study by Appalachian State University, adults who exercised at 7am fell asleep faster and slept better than those who hit the gym in the afternoon or evening. Who could turn down the opportunity for deeper, longer, higher-quality sleep?
12. Reduced diabetes risk
Hitting the gym first thing may help ward off type 2 diabetes by helping to regulate blood sugar levels. In a study by KU Leuven University, participants who exercised on an empty stomach showed better glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity compared to those who ate carbohydrates before and during the workout.
13. Reduced blood pressure
One of the easiest ways to manage your blood pressure is by exercising regularly, and this can be influenced further by the time you choose to exercise. In a study by Appalachian State University, participants who exercised on a treadmill for 30 minutes at 7am reduced their blood pressure by 10 per cent compared to those who did at 1pm and 7pm. What’s more, the dip continued all day before dropping further – an additional 25 per cent – at night.
Heading to the gym before the world wakes up means you’re more likely to stick at it – a study by the American Psychological Association found that the most consistent exercisers are those who make it a habit – and this could have a knock-on effect on other aspects of your health. By waking up at the same time every day, you reinforce your circadian rhythm, which helps to keep bodily functions and cycles operating at their optimum efficiency.
15. Enjoy a caffeine boost
Drinking an espresso before your evening workout will spell trouble for your sleep, but going without could result in a less-effective workout. Studies show consuming caffeine before exercise can boost speed, endurance, and overall workout quality, and also help you burn more calories when your workout is done. The solution? Schedule your workout for the morning, and by the time bed time rolls around, the caffeine will be out of your system.
16. Post-workout glow
When your heart rate goes up, your blood vessels expand, pumping more blood around your body – including your skin. This increase in blood flow nourishes cells with oxygen and flushing any cellular debris out of the system. The result? A healthy post-workout glow.
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