Is it worth the effort to get up early and do some cardio? We believe that there is no right time to work out. Whether you’re into HIIT, treadmills or you love your rowing machine – what works for you might not work for someone else. The best time to workout is always the time that you find easiest and can keep a consistent schedule for.
But there are some real benefits to early morning exercise that are hard to ignore. Anyone trying to get their cardio in should seriously consider fitting in an early morning workout. And in this guide we’re digging out the truth about the benefits of doing cardio in the morning.
There’s less distractions when you exercise first thing
When you exercise first thing in the morning, your workday hasn’t started, so that means no emails, calls or other little pinging alerts breaking your focus or stopping you dead.
In fact, there’s less people around in general, which means you’re free to take better routes with less traffic, and you can basically do what you want out on the roads and pathways.
If you work out from home, or have a family, or even a dog to look after, it’s great getting up early and taking control of your day by starting with a workout session.
It can be cooler in the morning
Although we don’t have much of a problem with that in the UK…
Lets face it. Getting hot and sticky in the sun is probably the least fun part of working out.
It’s no surprise that the hottest part of the day is midday, but even when the evening has cooled, the fact that the sun has been beating down all day leaves the air thick and humid.
That means the best time for cardio is always early morning, when it’s still cool outside, because the whole experience will be more comfortable, and the fact that it’s cooler outside will mean you can push harder and go longer.
Starting with cardio workout will boost your energy
A regular exercise plan boosts your overall energy levels, meaning you’ll have more energy throughout the day and you’re less likely to flag mid afternoon. There are many studies that show that exercise has a positive benefit to your energy levels.
Morning cardio sessions will get your cardiovascular system working, improving blood and oxygen flow throughout your body and stabilising hormone levels. And the studies show that morning exercise might have a whole host of other benefits.
This study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine, completed in 2019, found that people who exercised in the mornings:
- Had better attention spans
- Better decision making skills
- and better overall working memory
Another benefit to early morning cardio: you’ll feel happier!
And no, we’re not talking about the runner’s high.
Exercise, especially cardio exercise, is a great stress busting tool. Exercise naturally generates endorphins, our natural feel good chemical, in the brain. This can help fight depression and stress, as well as promoting overall well-bring and happiness.
So starting the day with cardio is a good way to start it right. By boosting endorphin production early, you’re making sure that you’re facing the day with a smile, whatever happens.
Exercising in the morning might help you sleep better
It stands to reason that we all sleep better after working out. The sensation of slipping into the sheets exhausted and drifting away is hard to beat.
But working out earlier might actually make you sleep better in general. According to this study, adults who exercised early in the morning had significantly better sleep patterns compared with people that exercised later in the day.
The perks included taking less time to fall asleep, more time spent in deep, beneficial REM sleep, and waking up fewer times during the night.
There’s also another sleep related bonus to early morning exercise. Exposure to sunlight early in the day could help increase your melatonin levels, which helps to regulate sleep patterns and make it easier to get some shut-eye.
It might have huge health benefits
On top of the standard health benefits of a good cardio workout, there might be some supplementary benefits for people with conditions like Type 1 Diabetes and Hypertension (High blood pressure.)
People with type 1 diabetes sometimes struggle to exercise, as the act of exercising can lower blood sugar and bring on a hypoglycaemic attack.
But the studies show that morning exercise has less of an effect on blood sugar, making it safer for people with diabetes to exercise in the morning. The current reason for this is unknown, but it’s thought to be linked to the increased cortisol levels, a hormone which helps control blood sugar, our bodies have first thing in the morning.
For people who suffer from high blood pressure, a healthy cardiovascular system is one of the biggest health changes they can make.
A group of adults were tested on a treadmill at various times of day, and again, the best time to exercise based on blood pressure and overall health was early in the morning.
If you have underlying health conditions, the best option is always to speak to your physician before beginning or changing your daily exercise routine.
Exercising in the morning. What you need to know
If we’ve convinced you of some of the plus points about getting some exercise early on in your day, here’s some quick-fire tips to get the most out of those early sessions.
Does fasted cardio in the morning lose more weight?
You might have heard the term fasted cardio before. This means working out after fasting, or not eating or drinking anything except water, for 8 to 12 hours before exercising. So how does exercising first thing affect fat loss?
Several years ago, fasted cardio was the in-thing, as it supposedly had massive fat burning benefits over conventional exercise.
But newer studies suggest that the fat burning effects of fasted cardio are actually a myth. While your body might burn more calories, it could actually take those calories from your muscles as well as your fat stores, burning valuable muscle and leaving you weaker long term.
But at the end of the day, the only workout that matters is the one you complete.
Should you eat before training in the morning?
Our recommendation is always to eat before exercising. A healthy snack that’s high in carbs and protein, such as Greek yoghurt, peanut butter, or oatmeal with nuts and berries, will give you the energy you need to complete your workout.
It’s also important to refuel after long or intense sessions of cardio. Again, focus on healthy choices that are high in carbohydrates and protein, supplement with a shake, and always remember to stay hydrated.
Remember to stretch when you wake up
One of the advantages of working out later in the day is the fact that your body, and your muscles, will be warmed up, limber and more mobile from the day’s activities. So make sure that you’re adequately warmed up before you start exercising.
This goes double as we progress into colder months. Muscles that aren’t warmed up yet are stiff rather than supple, and it’s much easier to injure yourself when you’re not adequately warmed up.
So make sure the first thing you do after strapping on your shoes is a good warm up and stretching program and your body will be ready for that early morning workout.
Is your body weaker in the morning?
You might have been told that exercising first thing is worse for you, because you’re actually weaker in the mornings. Is it harder to do that HIIT dumbbell workout in the morning? Why does that medicine ball feel so much heavier in AM side?
Well, we’re here to tell you that this is actually true.
Studies have found that strength does change throughout the day, and we are weaker first thing in the morning, hitting peak strength in mid-afternoon and early evening. So you might need lighter weights in the morning than say an evening workout.
But this only matters if you’re trying to hit peak strength. If you’re lifting weights and trying to max out a new PR, you should probably be lifting later in the day.
If instead you’re aiming for a solid cardio workout like running, cycling or rowing, you don’t need to care. Feel free to work out as early as you want to!
Final thoughts: Is morning exercise better?
Like we said at the start, there are a lot of reasons to consider fitting in your cardio first thing in the morning. If you’ve never tried working out first thing, we’d recommend making it a part of your routine for a couple of weeks and see how it feels for you.
But at the end of the day, the only workout that matters is the one you complete. If you find it more comfortable to exercise after work, do it. If you prefer intense bursts of high intensity cardio like sprints, do those instead.
Find out what works for you and your body, and stick to that. That’s always the best option when you’re working out, and that only comes from experience and experimentation.
References & Further Reading
- Effects of strength training at different times of the day – A mind-blowing study into circadian or diurnal rhythms and how they effect training in the morning and other times of day.
- This is an excellent study into the effects of sleep on NCBI. Spoiler alert: exercise helps you sleep better.
- There’s a good science-based article on aaptiv.com debunking some of the myths about when you should eat before training
- There’s a good video on Youtube around whether or not fasted cardio is better for you
- Built with Science go into fasted cardio and how it affects weight loss here