Before I had kids, I would use my lunch hour to hit the gym. I had a “passport” membership to a gym chain and could go to any of their locations. Lucky for me, there were several near my office, so I would scan their lunchtime class schedules and take advantage of total-body conditioning and kickboxing. My mid-day break always got my endorphins going, and I was extremely dedicated to taking it. As a friend said, I had the sculpted arms to show for it.
Then I went freelance and had two kids. Suddenly lunchtime workouts didn’t seem doable, and my arms (along with the rest of my body) suffered from their new (lack of) routine. I tried working out in the evenings after the kids were in bed, but I was so tired by then that it was hard to stick with it.
But I finally got to a point where I was more tired of not working out and not feeling fit, and I knew something had to change. That’s why I decided to make a commitment to work out every single morning for a month. No excuses.
“Exercise in the morning helps to get your metabolism going, burning more calories throughout the day,” says David Geier, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist in Charleston, South Carolina, and author of That’s Gotta Hurt: The Injuries That Changed Sports Forever.
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,” Dr. Geier says. Consistently working out in the morning makes it a habit, probably more so than trying to fit in exercise at different times every day, he says.
Here’s the thing about exercise: We are all 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. (There’s something to this. Scheduling everything, even family time, is one of the main habits of productive people.)
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 a.m. 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 a.m., and my family rarely gets up before 6:30 or 7:00, 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.
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.
“The benefits of exercising in the morning include feeling accomplished and good about yourself because you were actually able to make this happen,” says Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., a Los Angeles-based psychologist who specializes in self-esteem. “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. By starting the day with exercise, you’re more focused and balanced, Thomas notes.
“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,” she says.