In my opinion, OPTIMUM health is actually more like a 3-legged stool than anything else (you can shorten one of the legs of a stool pretty significantly and still sit on it but remove one leg completely and you’ll tip over, right?!) The 3 legs of the stool are:
- high quality exercise,
- high quality nutrition,
- and adequate rest/stress management techniques.
But the Chinese have a saying: you can’t appease the appetite by reading the menu. If you think about it, that’s actually a metaphor for EVERYTHING valuable in life: you’re life will never improve by just THINKING about making a change…you have to stop doing commentary from the sidelines and get in the game!
In this country, most people are aware of the importance of high quality exercise performed on a regular basis but finding a way to fit it into a hectic life is the problem… most people who DON’T exercise cite not being able to find the time while for many people who DO exercise it becomes, at best, occasional. In a 2013 study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that nearly 80% of US adults don’t get the recommended amount of exercise each week. (The World Health Organization recommends adults ages 18-64 get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise each week, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise each week. Frankly as a Master Personal Trainer and a woman, I think even that goal is short-sighted…the WHO makes no mention whatsoever of Strength & Conditioning exercise but that’s a whole other blog!)
Since most Americans’ schedules are SERIOUSLY overcrowded, working out in the early morning before the kids wake up and coworkers' emails begin flooding your inbox might be the best solution. It’s also true that energy levels are often higher first thing in the morning than any other time of the day, and since exercise raises metabolism sometimes for a couple of post-exercise hours, early AM exercisers often report a noticeable difference in their energy and mood throughout the entire day.
If early AM exercise sounds like a good idea to you, here are a few simple strategies to help minimize roadblocks and/or turn occasional exercise into an outright HABIT.
1. Prepare the night before.
Waking up with a to-do list in the morning takes away from the time you have to exercise. Rather than fumbling for your gym clothes and sneakers in the darkness of your pre-dawn bedroom, lay out your workout gear before going to bed each night. Lay out your work clothes as well so you spend more time exercising in the morning and less time choosing an outfit.
2. Set your alarm earlier than you intend to wake up.
Few people wake up the moment their alarm clocks first go off. Snooze buttons may help you ease into your wakeup routine, but those post-snooze button minutes are minutes you could be spending getting your recommended daily exercise. If you're a snooze button devotee and you want to be up by 6 a.m., then set your alarm for 5:50.
3. Get a good night's sleep.
In 2015, the National Sleep Foundation convened experts from sleep, anatomy and physiology, as well as pediatrics, neurology, gerontology and gynecology to reach a consensus on sleep guidelines for people of all ages. The panel recommends adults between the ages of 26 and 64 get 7-9 hours of sleep per night, noting that anything less than six hours or more than 10 hours is not recommended. (My mentor Steve Maxwell actually sends clients home who show up to workout with him on less than 7 hours of sleep!) A good night's sleep will help you feel more energetic when that alarm goes off, even if it’s going off LONG before the sun rises. Exercise and sleep are sort of like Yin and Yang:
- studies have shown that regular exercise actually improves quality of sleep,
- while lack of sleep raises Cortisol levels (a hormone that signals the body to store fat, NOT build muscle!)
- And muscles are actually stressed and damaged a bit by exercise but grow during rest and sleep
- Commit yourself to exercising on a regular basis for 30 days.
It’s a fact that any habit, no matter how horrible, can be broken in 30 days (that’s why rehabs are 30 days long!) Conversely, it only takes 30 days to CREATE a habit as well. And let’s face it…the only healthy lifestyle adaptation you’ll ever stick to is one that makes you feel better when you do it than when you don’t. So find a way to fit high quality exercise into your life on a regular basis for 30 days and I guarantee you’ll notice that you simply feel better in every way on the days you exercise than the days you don’t.
Jessica Lewis, CPT, CNC
HCC Lifestyle Coach