A case for settling to age-old debate once and for all
Morning runs versus evening runs: It's a debate as old as your grossest pair of running shoes.
Some people like to start their days with a jolt of exercise; others rely on the post-work effort to wind down from their email-meeting-email-repeat workday. (When Is the Best Time to Run?)
But whether or not you've already established your running habit, there are undeniably a lot of benefits to getting up and working out, not least of which is you're more likely to grab some fruit and granola for breakfast instead of that glistening bacon, egg, and cheese.
Running coach and personal trainer Meghan Kennihan (who recently completed a 50K, a 50-miler, and a 100K race) has noticed increased self-confidence and consistency in clients who become morning runners. "At work, your willpower and motivation slowly decline as the day goes on, which is why most people grab that extra bar of chocolate at night," she says. "Working out in the morning is a great way to kickstart your day. It lowers your blood pressure and jumpstarts your metabolism to make you more productive at work or give you more energy for your kids."
Plus, there's that nice solitude in the early morning hours: "It's much more stress-relieving," she says, "Instead of thinking, 'Oh, someone is standing behind me in line to get on the treadmill.'" (One woman shares: "How I Turned Myself Into an Early Morning Exerciser.")
And if these reasons don't convince you to get up earlier, here's an extra tip: Don't wait until the night before to lay out gym clothes. Grab 'em right after your morning workout, when you're still riding that runner's high and feeling good about yourself. Planning your next run a full 24 hours in advance will set an intention for the next day. Now, let us break down the science-backed facts about running in the a.m.
1. Focusing Becomes Easier
After pushing yourself out the door, something magical happens. You might feel as though your brain clicks on. Suddenly, you're forced to notice pedestrians, cyclists, crosswalks, and giant fallen branches trying to sabotage your badass intervals. But that intense level of focus doesn't stop when you throw your sweaty Sauconys in the corner. Studies have shown that vigorous aerobic exercise (that's running, yay!) activates the prefrontal and occipital cortexes, also known as those brainy parts associated with "executive control," which helps you regulate your emotions, and manage the processes to achieve your goals. No wonder you feel like you can conquer the world after downing that post-workout smoothie. (P.S. That Runner's High Is As Strong As a Drug High.)
2. Your Sleeping Habits Will Improve
There's nothing worse than crawling into bed, waiting for what dreams may come, and then...nothing happening. Insomnia is the pits, and can make you feel sluggish and "off" the entire next day—or make you turn towards a caffeine drip. Getting regular aerobic exercise can improve sleep quality and help ease insomnia, according to a Northwestern University study. But since cardio can give you more energy, it makes sense that working out early—and riding that boost through the day—is the key to feeling ready for bed when you're in bed, not in the office.
3. You're Less Prone to Freak Out
Everyone has those days when it seems the world is out to get them. You spill coffee all over yourself. You start throwing side-eye at that cranky soul on the subway muttering that the train is too slow. Or, worse yet, you are that person. Running can transform that morning monster into a calm, beatific soul. Seriously. According to the American Psychological Association, there are many facets about exercise that make you less anxious, but an increase in serotonin can play a role, as well as a "toughening up" of the brain by exposing it regularly to stressful activities like exercise. And beyond just your daily crabbiness, exercise can have powerful effects on mental health and clinical depression, according to multiple studies reviewed at Boston University.
4. Nature Does Your Body Good
Poor Kimmy Schmidt proved that no one should go without sunlight. But good news, everybody! You don't have to live in a bunker! So you might as well head outdoors—and the greener, the better. A Stanford study found that people who walked in a park for 50 minutes had decreased anxiety and rumination (which we imagine are those existential thoughts you might spiral into every once in awhile) compared to people who walked around a more urban environment. And what's more peaceful than a park at sunrise? That green space you've been meaning to check out could be the cure for your workplace angst. (Here are more Science-Backed Ways Getting In Touch with Nature Boosts Your Health.)
5. You Shift Your Relationship with Food
Instead of running at night and trying to make up for a day of crazy eating (that fried chicken sure looked good at lunch, right?), lacing up in the morning means you're more likely to make better choices because you started off the day on the right foot. (Alternatively, if you're trying to reset from the night before, a morning run might help that hangover.) A new study at Loughborough University showed a link between exercise and reduced appetite—women who ran for 90 minutes on a treadmill later consumed fewer calories at a buffet, compared to women who were inactive but whose calorie intake was restricted. Basically, those who worked out ate less and were less hungry than those who didn't work out. Plus, as Coach Meghan Kennihan notes, "The food you eat after your runs can be immediately used to heal and repair your muscles," and give you a killer afterburner effect. (Find out How to Get the 'Afterburn' Effect in Your Workout.)
That said, exercising in the morning might not be for everyone. But you can always give it the ol' (sweaty) college try. Kennihan recommends trying to stay consistent for three weeks. If you run four times a week, she says, "that's only 12 days out of your life you have to get up at the crack of dawn." Then you can find out what's right for you—and perhaps finally settle the morning v. evening run debate once and for all.