I used to find that getting out of bed was the most difficult ordeal of the morning. Hitting snooze for a few minutes led to snoozing for hours, and that morning grogginess would plague the rest of my day.
Luckily, I happened upon a straightforward, scientifically-backed, and incredibly healthy trick to overcoming the dawn doldrums: exercise.
It may sound like torture at first, but here’s why a few minutes of exercise every morning has completely transformed my mornings and my productivity.
One of the most frequent excuses for not exercising is that it’s too difficult, and you’re out of shape. I know from experience — a few years ago, I was overweight and couldn’t run more than a block.
Then I got tired of how I looked and felt and started trying to move around. Walking became running, push-ups became bench presses, and before I knew it, I actually had more time to do everything I needed because I was getting better sleep thanks to the exercise.
With more time on my hands and stronger focus, I have managed to juggle medical school, cancer research, and a fair bit of writing.
But none of this would have been possible had I not stumbled upon morning exercise, which has allowed me to overcome morning grogginess to be more awake and productive.
Our bodies are programmed with an internal clock called the “circadian rhythm,” which functions by oscillating levels of hormones like melatonin (the sleep hormone) and cortisol (the stress and awakening hormone) throughout the day.
Cortisol is a powerful hormone, and it’s one that I have learned to use to my advantage in the mornings.
I first started exercising in the afternoons, which made my workouts feel exhausting after a long day of work. Cortisol levels tend to naturally fall in the afternoon and evening, which may make one feel weaker.
On the other hand, cortisol levels actually start climbing as early as 3 a.m. in most people in order to help us wake up.
I really started to appreciate the effects of cortisol and exercise when I began running in the mornings instead to avoid the summer heat. Soon enough, I was practicing a daily rotation of running, swimming, biking, or weight-lifting, and getting up early no longer felt like a chore.
A study from the University of North Carolina is but one of many that find that exercise is a great way to boost cortisol to feel more awake in the morning. Exercising in the morning exploits the already-high levels of cortisol, which helped me feel stronger and lighter on my feet.
Moreover, moving my afternoon workouts to the morning helped me fall asleep easier and get a deeper sleep, as research from the National Sleep Foundation shows. More sleep meant I felt more refreshed and ready to exercise and be productive the next morning.
My exercise routine also began affecting other parts of my life. I stopped relying on caffeine and sugar to get me through the day. In fact, researchers at the University of Georgia found that even 10 minutes of exercise promotes wakefulness better than caffeine, and I can testify to it.
I wasn’t born particularly fit or “well-endowed” muscularly. Rather, the key to my success was the willpower to start with just a little exercise in the morning and stick with it.
John F. Kennedy, speaking of the mission to the moon, once saidthat we don’t do difficult things “because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Tomorrow morning, channel your inner JFK and force yourself to take a walk, a run, or maybe just do a few push-ups.
It’ll give you a much-needed reason to get out of bed, a much easier time getting into bed that evening, and a much more lively day in between. At least, I know that’s what morning exercise did for me.
Originally published on Business Insider.
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