Why Morning is the Best Time For Exercise

A fitness professional discusses the benefits of working out at sunrise

I like exercising early in the morning before work.

It's one thing I can check off my to-do list right away. I feel energized and focused when I get to work. It helps me set a healthy precedent for the rest of the day ahead.

That doesn't mean it's easy for me to wake up and get out of bed when my alarm goes off in the morning. In fact, it's anything but easy. But every morning that I choose to start my day with exercise is always a good one. (Unless the subways are running with delays—that can turn any New Yorker's day into a total nightmare.)

Sometimes I'll schedule early morning group exercise classes for myself. I’m always excited about the workout, but still, the night before I'll moan and groan about how I wish I hadn't signed up for such an early class. I'll dread waking up at the crack of dawn. I'll act like Oscar the Grouch the entire way there.

Related: The Secret to Creating an Exercise Habit You'll Actually Stick With

Heck, I might even still be grumpy as I'm setting up, waiting for class to begin. But instantly I start moving around, whether it's yoga or cycling or rowing, I feel 1,000 pounds lighter and a whole lot happier. And once the workout is over, I feel like I’m on top of the world. I never regret an early morning workout.

The entire process that I just described happened to me last week when I signed up for a 7 a.m. yoga class at New York Health and Racquet Club. I was enticed by the fact that it was being held on the gym’s rooftop deck. To me, it sounded like a great way to start off the day. Yes, it sounded so great—until my alarm went off at 5:45 a.m.

I reluctantly rolled out of bed and headed downtown to the gym. Luckily I was able to shut my eyes for a while on the subway. I was still a bit groggy when I arrived, but once I had my mat set up, and class was about to being my mood slowly began to change.

And just like I explained above, once the class was over I felt like a million bucks. I was glad I went through with it. This phenomenon never fails. I went through the same exact motions the following week when I scheduled a 7 a.m. session with Cheyne Zeller, a personal trainer at New York Health and Racquet Club who was recently featured on MensFitness.com.

So, having experienced this whole process a million and one times, I thought to myself, “I wish more people knew how great waking up early for exercise can be.” OK, maybe the waking up part isn’t so great. But the exercising part definitely is.  

That’s when I got in touch with Ed Gober, Vice President of Fitness at New York Health and Racquet Club. His 20 years of expertise in the health and fitness industry helped me dig deeper into the topic.

Beyond feeling good when you’re finished working out, I asked Gober what he thinks are the best benefits of making exercise your first priority of the day.

A few of the advantages he mentioned included the avoidance of scheduling conflicts that might come up later in the day, more available equipment if you’re working out at the gym, and starting the day with a focus on wellness.

“Exercising in the morning makes your workout more manageable and more efficient. The evening rush at the gym is busy and a lot of times it becomes a rush to finish your day,” he said.

Plus, getting your workout done before your day officially starts means you won’t have to worry about fighting the temptation to pass up exercise at the end of the day. Gober puts it this way: “You won't be tempted to pass on your workout because the day has had its way with you.”

Early morning exercise also benefits your health by increasing mental awareness throughout the rest of the day. Gober says this effect can last for up to 10 hours due in part to the increased flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain.

He also mentioned that it can help improve your sleeping habits, which many people don’t realize are a critical part of optimal overall health and wellness.

“Exercising in the morning can make your sleep patterns better,” said Gober. “Sometimes an evening workout coupled with the agenda  for the next day on your mind creates sleepless nights. Start your day with mental focus and then you can shut down after work.”

Related: 13 Tips for Getting a Better Night's Sleep

Not to mention, exercising in the morning can help improve your ability to recover, too.

“People initially make the mistake that good progress takes place in the gym,” Gober said. “But it’s really in the recovery process. Getting enough sleep is so important for that.”

And one final benefit that can help make working out in the morning fun: friends.

Gober says there’s a sense of community among the New York Health and Racquet Club members who work out in the morning.  “We do see that the people who train in the morning are always the most consistent people in the facility. They have the most frequency of check-ins because those are the people who are really keyed in on wellness.”

Keeping yourself surrounded by a supportive group of like-minded people is an important part of maintaining an early morning exercise habit.

“There’s a great sense of community especially with our group exercises classes,” Gober said. “You know the person next to you because they’re there at 7 a.m. with you every day. It’s that ‘we’re all in this together' mindset and it’s motivating. You have a partner; you know there are other people who will be there. I think having that is a huge benefit.”

So, what if you have a really hard time waking up for a workout in the morning? I asked Gober for some advice.

“I think they key is in the initial stages,” he said. “If you’re struggling, you need to have something to be accountable for, whether that’s one person to design a program for you or a group of people to work with.”

I also asked him if he could suggest one simple thing that someone who wants to start an early morning exercise habit could do to work towards that goal today.

“Find things that you enjoy,” he said. “If it feels like a chore it’s going to be.”