How to create courage to train in the morning? See expert tips


Sport has always been an important part of Ciarán Friel’s life. Before becoming an exercise physiologist at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in New York City, he was a physical education teacher and Gaelic soccer coach. Friel has always been active. But now that he works in an office, he finds it difficult to find time to exercise.

Like many Americans, “I face challenges getting up early or finding time to train,” says Friel.

It is still not clear what is the ideal time of day to exercise. Studies suggest that weight loss benefits are greatest in the morning, but to lower blood sugar and cholesterol, it may be best to work out in the afternoon. Realistically, it’s most effective when you can consistently practice.

Despite the challenge of getting up early enough to train, Friel says, mornings are better for most people because they have more control of their time before the day’s commitments begin. In general, you don’t have to work or run errands at 7 am, he says. Friends rarely invite you to happy hour at 6:00.

“Life happens,” recalls Shawn Youngstedt, an exercise psychologist at Arizona State University. He adds that many people, “if you don’t exercise early in the morning, you’re not going to make it.”

It’s not easy, though, to just jump out of bed in the morning and start running, swimming, or lifting weights. If you’re looking to create a sustainable morning exercise routine, here’s what the experts say can help.

Get ready to start getting up early

Almost every cell in the body works on a daily rhythm that lasts approximately 24 hours. This cycle determines not only when we fall asleep and wake up, but also our body temperature, when we feel hungry, our hormones, and much more.

To wake up earlier and start a morning exercise routine, “What we’re trying to do is not just shift the bedtime, but actually shift the entire circadian clock earlier,” says Kimberly Fenn, a cognitive neuroscientist who studies sleep. and learning at Michigan State University. “That’s the ultimate goal.”

In the morning, we get a flood of the hormone cortisol, which, among other things, helps us wake up, according to Fenn. But if you suddenly change your alarm clock from 8 am to 6 am your cortisol levels won’t be high enough when it goes off, and you may find it harder than usual to get out of bed. Instead, she recommends gradually going to bed earlier.

“If your goal is to start training on Saturday,” she says, “maybe Tuesday, instead of going to bed at midnight, go to bed at 11:45 pm. Then Wednesday at 11:30 pm.”

There are also things you can do during the day to modify your circadian rhythm. In one study, Youngstedt and her team instructed 101 adults to do one hour of moderate exercise at eight different times over three days. As expected, those who ran on the treadmill in the morning sped up their circadian cycles, meaning their bodies were ready to go to sleep and wake up earlier.

But they weren’t the only ones. Participants who exercised at 1 pm and 4 pm saw similar changes, which suggests that exercising in the afternoon may also make it a little easier to wake up earlier the next day.

If you can fit it into your schedule, consider working out in the early afternoon for a few days before making the full leap into a morning sweat session.

Wake up to bright light

In the summer, your best bet for feeling energized may be to get out into the morning sun right away, but in the winter you’ll likely be getting up before the sun. In that case, it will need strong artificial light to wake it up. Bright light tells your body to stop producing melatonin, the hormone that causes sleep.

“Having access to bright light in the morning is the best way to help train your circadian cycle,” says Fenn, who has spent many dark mornings running the streets of New York City training for marathons.

“Intensity is important,” he says. Soft bedroom lighting is unlikely to work. Most studies suggest that 10,000 lux is enough to help you change your circadian rhythm. Some suggest it may be as little as 2,000, however, which is roughly equal to two 100-watt bulbs.

Fenn is working on a study to test the effects of phototherapy using glasses that shine light directly into participants’ eyes as they go about their morning routines. There is limited data on these specific glasses, but she believes they may have the same effect as other forms of phototherapy.

make your plan

First, you need to figure out how exercise will fit into your mornings. Think about your morning deadline or the time of your first fixed obligation, like taking your kids to school or getting to the office, and prepare in advance.

Avoid distractions that can slow you down, like checking your email first thing in the morning. Try prepping your workout clothes the night before to save time.

Once you’ve identified your morning deadline, you can consider your preference. For example, Friel has to help her children get ready for school at 6:45 am. In the summer, he works out at 5:30 am before the kids are up, but in the winter, when it’s darker and colder, he waits until the kids are out.

Choose a realistic goal and predict obstacles

Once you have a plan and schedule that are sensible, it’s time to think about what else might get in the way. For example, if you plan to run outdoors at 6 am in January (winter in the northern hemisphere), you will need warm, reflective running clothes.

It’s also important to have a “non-judgmental approach,” Friel points out. He suggested avoiding performance-based goals when you’re starting out. If you’re running, don’t worry about speed or distance. Instead, try to get into the habit of jogging for 30 or 40 minutes in the morning.

Make it a habit

If you stick with it, exercise will become less of a decision and more of “what you usually do,” Friel points out. But don’t be discouraged if it takes a long time to get to that point. It can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a habit to become automatic, according to a widely cited 2009 study.

To stick with the habit, Friel says, you can’t blame yourself if you shorten or even miss a few workouts. Associating exercise with negative feelings is not sustainable, he points out. It’s exciting to start a new routine, but when obstacles get in the way, it’s easy to lose motivation. Find ways to make exercise enjoyable, like listening to your favorite ebooks only when you work out.

It’s also crucial to stick to your regular sleep schedule, even on the weekends, says Fenn. Otherwise, on Monday morning you will again have to struggle to get out of bed.

Over time, there will come a point where “you get up and do it,” says Friel. “Don’t even think about it.”

Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves

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