A.M. Advantage: Get Your Workout with the Early Birds

By Martha Michael

Benefits of Early Morning Exercise

The same way rushing the net in badminton will increase your chance of hitting the birdie into the court, getting your workout up front -- in the morning -- will give you a better shot at healthy results.

Burn it Before Breakfast

Athlete or not, when maximum wellness is your goal, you aim for a body that’s relatively lean. Research out of the UK shows that fat burns at a greater rate throughout the day if you exercise in the morning. Additionally, working out on an empty stomach lowers the level of fat in the blood.

An article in The Independent cites a study appearing in the British Journal of Nutrition observing fat loss in overweight men. Though participants had no regular exercise regimen, the study of their metabolic health included workouts -- some before breakfast and others after mealtime. The comparison showed that fitness on an empty stomach produced greater results, in terms of fat burning.

"Any exercise you do is beneficial, but the indications are that there might be an extra benefit associated with exercising before eating, compared to after,” said Dr. Jason Gill of the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences at the University of Glasgow.

Help From Your Hormones

Morning exercise causes the release of hormones such as serotonin, which affects your nervous system and regulates mood. Movement also incites a rush of adrenaline, which wakes you up and gets you moving, says Sofie Laage-Christiansen, PhD, in an article in ScienceNordic. It raises your blood pressure, which she says is a boost to your brain, contributing to more positive performance.

“It can, for example, make you better at tackling problems long into the day,” says Laage-Christiansen, who earned an advanced degree in sleep studies at Aarhus University, Denmark. “You have surely experienced suddenly being able to answer an exam question, even though you thought you couldn’t do it. It’s the stress hormones that are helping you.”

The production of these hormones occurs in the morning naturally, so you’re contributing to an already beneficial circadian rhythm by hitting the gym or the street first thing.

Good Morning = Good Night

A morning run may be the best thing for your nights, Laage-Christiansen says. Becoming active is one thing, but being outdoors is the key. The light hitting your eyes communicates to your brain that you’ll need melatonin in the evening, a hormone that positively affects sleep.

Exercising in daylight and slowing down at night is, again, augmenting your body’s natural tendencies. For instance, your cortisol levels are high at about 9 a.m., and lowest at midnight, she says, which naturally controls sleep rhythms.

Morning workout proponents cite a study by Appalachian State University researchers confirming the benefits to your quality of sleep. Morning workouts incite better sleep cycles and longer sleep patterns, according to the study. And your ability to sleep is intertwined with your cardiac health, says lead researcher, Scott Collier, PhD.

Building a Better BP

“Our blood pressure dips at night which helps reset the body, keeping blood pressure within a certain range and relaxing vasculature and the heart,” Collier says. “We know the long-term clinical manifestations of poor sleep include hypertension and myocardial infarction or heart attacks. Also, obesity and diabetes can be related to poor sleep. We wanted to know if there could be a best benefit of exercise related to improved blood pressure.”

Specifically, it was participants in the study at Appalachian State who worked out at 7 a.m. who showed the greatest benefits, including a 10 percent reduction in blood pressure all day and 25 percent lower blood pressure at night.

Before the research came in, Collier expected evening exercise to show the best benefit.

“We don’t yet know the physiological mechanisms that result in these changes, but we do know enough to say if you need to decrease your blood pressure and if you need to increase your quality of sleep, 7 a.m. is probably the best time to exercise,” Collier says.

It seems there are many reasons to call the early workout routine a winner. Considering your heart, your hormones and the state of your sleep, it appears that hitting it hard with the birdies is most likely to result in a smashing success.

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