Why The Morning Is The Best Time To Workout
It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of morning workouts. (Almost) every day, I wake up and cycle, lift weights, or do a circuit-training or HIIT workout for about 30 minutes. A morning workout is a staple part of my daily routine, and I recommend that all of my patients try their best to establish this healthy habit.
“But why the mornings?” is often the response I get from those same patients. At first, morning workouts can be a tough adjustment — and even get a bad rap for being crazy or only for the fitness-obsessed — but the truth is, we can all benefit from moving our workouts to the beginning of our daily to-do list.
Here’s why morning workouts are the absolute best:
1. They help you eat healthier throughout the day
Exercise is great for supporting healthy blood sugar balance, which means more energy, less “hangryness,” and fewer cravings for sweets. When you work out in the morning, it sets you up for healthier choices for the whole day. For example, a study published in Medical Science of Sports Exercise (1) showed that when women walked briskly for 45 minutes in the morning, they had more of a controlled response to tasty photos of unhealthy food.
2. They help you sleep better
Exercise increases your heart rate and releases adrenaline and cortisol into your body, which means it could interfere with your sleep if you try to work out in the evening. Plus, studies show (2) that working out in the morning is, in fact, more beneficial for sleep than working out in the afternoon or evening. Additional research has even (3) shown that working out at 7 a.m. can shift your circadian rhythm so that you feel on top of your game in the mornings and then get sleepy earlier, which sets you up for an early night and another morning workout the next day. Win-win!
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3. Morning workouts are easier than evening workouts
You might read this and think: No way Dr. Cole! But the truth is, working out first thing in the morning is easier, especially if you make it your very first task of the day. You see, research shows (4) that it’s easier to stick to healthy habits if they are completed first thing in the morning. We all know what it’s like to find a reason to cancel your workout as the day goes on. You naturally find excuses — like you’re too full from lunch, you’re too hungry for dinner, you have a meeting in an hour, or you just need to clean the kitchen — not to put on those sneakers and get to sweating. Doing your workout first thing in the morning gets it out of the way and allows you to start your day with a big win.
4. They help you burn more fat
When you work out first thing in the morning, your body is in the best possible state to burn stored fat. Why? Because hormones like cortisol and growth hormone are naturally high in the morning (they surge to help you get up and out of bed!). This is even more true if you work out before you eat breakfast. When you do a fasted workout, your body will have burned off the sugar in your blood through the night and will start burning stored fat for fuel instead. In fact, one study found (5) that a fasted morning cardio session increased 24-hour fat oxidation in young men.
5. They boost your mood
Working out leads to a massive release of feel-good chemicals in the brain. When you do your workout first thing, you get to take full advantage of that amazing post-workout feeling for an entire day — not just a few hours before bed. Not to mention, in the hours after your workout, you concentrate better, prioritize tasks more efficiently, and have better impulse control. So even if you think you should start your work right away, you might find that getting moving first thing actually leads to a more productive workday overall.
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- Hanlon, B., Larson, M. J., Bailey, B. W., & LeCheminant, J. D. (2012). Neural response to pictures of food after exercise in normal-weight and obese women. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 44(10), 1864–1870. https://doi.org/10.1249/MSS.0b013e31825cade5
- Fairbrother, K., Cartner, B., Alley, J. R., Curry, C. D., Dickinson, D. L., Morris, D. M., & Collier, S. R. (2014). Effects of exercise timing on sleep architecture and nocturnal blood pressure in prehypertensives. Vascular health and risk management, 10, 691–698. https://doi.org/10.2147/VHRM.S73688
- Fournier, M., d’Arripe-Longueville, F., Rovere, C., Easthope, C. S., Schwabe, L., El Methni, J., & Radel, R. (2017). Effects of circadian cortisol on the development of a health habit. Health Psychology, 36(11), 1059–1064. https://doi.org/10.1037/hea0000510
- Iwayama, K., Kurihara, R., Nabekura, Y., Kawabuchi, R., Park, I., Kobayashi, M., Ogata, H., Kayaba, M., Satoh, M., & Tokuyama, K. (2015). Exercise Increases 24-h Fat Oxidation Only When It Is Performed Before Breakfast. EBioMedicine, 2(12), 2003–2009. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ebiom.2015.10.029
- Puig-Ribera, A., Bort-Roig, J., Giné-Garriga, M., González-Suárez, A. M., Martínez-Lemos, I., Fortuño, J., Martori, J. C., Muñoz-Ortiz, L., Milà, R., Gilson, N. D., & McKenna, J. (2017). Impact of a workplace ‘sit less, move more’ program on efficiency-related outcomes of office employees. BMC public health, 17(1), 455. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-017-4367-8
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BY DR. WILL COLE
Dr. Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, leading functional medicine expert, consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He received his doctorate from Southern California University of Health Sciences and post doctorate education and training in functional medicine and clinical nutrition. He specializes in clinically researching underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. Dr. Cole was named one of the top 50 functional medicine and integrative doctors in the nation and is the best selling author of Ketotarian and The Inflammation Spectrum.