Rolling out of bed, you spot your sneakers placed in clear vision as a reminder to work out, and the excuse-making begins: I’ll just work out harder tomorrow, I should clean up the kitchen instead, I don’t want to get too tired before the day begins.
It takes oomph and commitment to get up for your morning workout, but it’s worth it—for your body and mind. John Ratey, Harvard Medical School psychiatrist and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, says, “Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning. Even ten minutes of activity changes your brain.” That’s pretty hard to argue with, so try these hacks to start your day with some cardio.
01. Pace yourself—physically and mentally.
Daunted by the thought of a high-intensity workout? All you really need is a moderate workout to stay healthy and get your brain and body going for the day. For overall cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association recommends thirty minutes of moderate exercise at least five days a week or twenty-five minutes of vigorous activity at least three days a week. Building endurance over time lets you exercise at the pace that’s right for your body. Exercise psychologist Kris Berg explains, “After decades of studying ways to improve endurance, I’m leaning more than ever toward the great gestalt of mind–body wisdom and encouraging runners to do what feels right." Over time, you’ll be able to naturally increase, or continue, just the right amount of exercise.
02. Visualize the long-term benefits.
Besides the immediate energy boost and stress relief, think about the big-picture benefits of your morning workouts. Visualization is a common technique for improving motivation and performance, frequently used by athletes including Michael Phelps. Many studies, including research published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise that analyzed the impact of mental imagery on the fitness of college women, have found that those who participate in mental imagery have more motivation. Focusing on the why behind your morning workouts will help you get out of bed and get moving. Instead of thinking I just want to crawl back into bed, think I can’t wait to feel even more fit in a few weeks. These future-focused thoughts will unlock your intrinsic motivation—your natural desire—to work out.
03. Get a good night’s sleep.
It’s so much easier to be active after going to bed at a reasonable hour. Research by the Defense and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine revealed that subjects who were sleep-deprived became exhausted faster than those who were well-rested. And the National Sleep Foundation says young adults and adults should get between seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Exercise also improves your quality of sleep. A study published in a 2011 issue of Mental Health and Physical Activity found that those who exercised regularly had a 65 percent improvement in sleep quality and felt less sleepy throughout the day. So regular sleep and exercise are mutually beneficial.
04. Remind yourself of the post-workout high.
How great does it feel once you’re showered, dressed, and heading out the door having conquered your morning workout? Self-satisfaction aside, exercise reduces your stress levels and boosts your energy throughout the day. A University of California San Francisco study proved that exercise prevents stress by lengthening and protecting telomeres, the small bits of DNA that bolster genetic stability and protect chromosomes. “Even a moderate amount of vigorous exercise appears to provide a critical amount of protection for the telomeres,” shares Elissa Epel, one lead investigator. Exercise also triggers the release of endorphins, neurotransmitters associated with mood improvement. So your post-workout energy isn’t just an emotional high, it’s also linked to your DNA and body chemicals.
05. Write down your weekly workout plan.
Every week, plan when you’ll make time to work out. Get as detailed as possible with the times and routine. Consistency helps with habit-making, so try to start at the same time each morning: thirty minutes of yoga on Monday, one hour of cardio on Tuesday, Pilates class on Wednesday. Writing down your weekly routine will keep you accountable. In a Dominican University study led by psychology professor Dr. Gail Matthews, participants who physically wrote down their goals achieved much more than those who didn’t. Also, a study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology discovered that participants who wrote down explicitly where and when they would exercise during the upcoming week were much more likely to follow through.
06. Listen to workout jams as you get ready.
Listening to music in the morning helps your brain become alert after waking up and can make you feel more empowered. Your workout playlist can also help you visualize your workout, in turn motivating you. Cue up whatever tunes stimulate you before your workout even starts to get your brain and body in the mood to move. A study published in the The Journal of Health Behavior found that preferred music increases motivation. So turn up whatever soundtrack accompanies your workout mood.
07. Switch up your routine.
If your workout bores you, it may be time to switch it up. Alternate among a few different routines to keep it interesting. This variance will also avoid a workout plateau, when your body adjusts to your current energy intake and output and stalls any progress. Celebrity personal trainer Jillian Michaels shares, “As you get used to a type of exercise, it becomes less challenging and, as a result, less effective. That’s why it’s so important to mix it up. Alternate the amount of weight you lift—go heavy one week with fewer reps and lighter the next with more reps. Change the type of exercise you do for each muscle.”
Don’t overthink the decision to work out. The more you think about it, the more you’ll be able to convince yourself not to do it. Sometimes, you just have to push through it. And these motivational hacks can help you do just that.
Photo Credit: Janis Roseanne