When you want to get to the beach faster, you take a shortcut. That’s also true when your destination is losing 20 pounds before hit the sand. The promise of a shortcut is extremely appealing because we know that the path to a leaner, more muscular body is long and difficult.
But if there’s one hack that makes achieving the body you want through exercise easier than all others, we’ve found it: work out first thing in the morning. (And for more tips, check out these Science-Backed Mental Hacks to Lose More Weight.)
Sound awful? It may even feel terrible the first time you try it, but it works like a charm. Countless athletes and trainers agree, including Natasha Funderburk, RN, CPT, a personal trainer certified by the National Association of Sports Medicine (NASM) and an ACE Behavior Change Specialist.
“I know it sometimes [it’s hard] to get up and immediately jump into a workout, but when you exercise in the morning there are so many good things that happen,” she says.
For example, morning workouts may actually make you feel more energetic as the day goes on. A 2010 Australian study found that people who exercised in the morning and also took brief walking breaks during the day scored higher on tests of attention, visual learning, and decision making compared to sedentary people.
And in an animal study, University of Copenhagen researchers found that exercising in the morning results in an increased metabolic response, allowing rats to break down sugar and fat better. (Read more: One Major Side Effect of Working Out in the Morning, Says Study.)
Lastly, research even shows that morning exercise is associated with greater physical activity the rest of the day.
We asked Funderburk, the owner to trulysimplyhealthy.com to tell us her best tips to start working out in the morning and the benefits of doing so. Read on, and for more on healthy eating, don’t miss Simple Ways to Start Losing Weight Immediately, According to Science.
When you get your workout out of the way in the morning, you’ll find that you suddenly have much more time in your day to get everything else done. By contrast, if you put off your workout for later in the day, invariably your life will get busy, and that may make you more likely to blow it off.
“By the time I get home or get finished with everything I have going on at the end of the day, I’m so tired that the last thing I want to do is get up and move when I could be lying on the couch,” says Funderburk.
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Set your alarm for 30 to 60 minutes earlier than you normally do to create “me” time for your workout, suggests Funderburk. Place your alarm clock or phone across the room so you have to get up to turn it off, forcing you to get moving. “Set out your workout clothes the night before. Fill a water bottle or get your pre-workout meal ready to go,” she says. The simpler you make it to start exercising, the better. “Exercising in the morning means getting to bed earlier, too,” she says. “Schedule it in your calendar like a work meeting; when you treat your workout like an appointment, you’re less likely to skip it.” And for better sleep, check out 9 Eating Habits That Are Hurting Your Sleep, According to Doctors.
“One extra benefit of morning exercise is that when you start your day making a healthy choice, you’re more likely to continue making healthy choices throughout the day,” says Funderburk.
That’s been backed up by research, which has shown that exercising in the morning is associated with greater physical activity the rest of the day. What’s more, other studies demonstrate that aerobic exercise, like walking, reduces cravings for high-fat fast foods and carbohydrates later in the day. Related: Avoid these Worst Habits for a Flat Belly, According to Experts.
“There’s this big misconception that you need to spend hours working out to get the best results. Not true,” says Funderburk. In fact, a long workout can sabotage your motivation. “You can get a super effective weight training session in 30 to 45 minutes if you’re using your time wisely. HIIT (high-intensity interval training) should be 15 minutes or less. Cardio, if you’re adding it on after weight training, should be approximately 20 minutes.”
Jumping into a workout before eating breakfast not only is time-efficient, but it may also speed up weight loss. “If your goal is fat loss, then try fasted cardio,” suggests Funderburk. “Working out in a fasted state forces your body to burn fat stores because it isn’t pulling from recent energy stories (the food you just ate).” A small study in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism found that people who fasted before morning exercise sessions reduced the number of calories, they ate the rest of the day and increased fat burning while they were exercising.
If you’ve tried working out in the morning and you’re still gaining weight, This Could Be Why.