Emphasize Early Exercise!

Richard Zhuang

Exercise is one of the most important factors in maintaining a healthy lifestyle—it helps us lose weight, reduces the risks of diseases, strengthens our muscles, and improves our overall physical condition. However, the timing of an exercise session is significant—performing a workout in the morning, afternoon, or evening has varying results on your mental and physical health. Science shows that the best time to exercise is actually in the early morning because it greatly improves your focus, performance, and overall mental health during the school day, while also enhancing the quality of your sleep. 

Exercising in the morning before school can significantly improve your concentration, energy, and mindset. “Exercise leads to the secretion of neurotransmitters that promote mental clarity and an improved attention span,” says Jasmin Theard, an exercise physiologist at Piedmont Atlanta Fitness Center. Exercise notably releases “feel-good” neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, noradrenaline, and endorphins, which improve your happiness and alertness. In a 2019 study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine, participants who took a 30-minute walk on a treadmill each morning had better attention, visual learning, and decision-making than those who did not exercise. Exercising early in the morning can positively impact your attitude and mindset during the school day. 

For the sleep deprived, an effective morning exercise can actually greatly improve sleep quality. According to a study by Vascular Health and Risk Management in 2014, participants who exercised at 7 a.m. got better sleep, spending less time falling asleep and more time in deep sleep. Additional studies from the American Journal of Physiology have shown that morning exercises promote the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation. Thus, morning exercises make you feel calmer, helping you fall asleep faster at night. This is also supported by a 2022 study from the Sleep Research Society, which found that 15-18 year old adolescents who walked for 45 minutes in the morning started to get sleepy earlier in the evening than those who did not exercise.

Clearly, there are many benefits associated with morning exercise, but which is the best to kickstart your day? One of the most effective morning workouts is high intensity aerobic exercises—these workouts raise your blood flow, promote heart rate variability, and increase slow-wave sleep, or deep sleep. Simply put, aerobic exercises alleviate stress, reduce anxiety, and improve sleep quality. You can take a 20-minute jog, walk, or bike ride around your neighborhood, or do high-intensity interval training (HITT), which involves an explosive cardio workout—such as planks, lunges, burpees, or push ups—followed by a break after a certain time interval. Additionally, any form of resistance training or muscle-strengthening exercise, such as lifting weights or using resistance bands, will improve your sleep quality and energy. If you aren’t interested in a heavy workout right before school, a 10-minute yoga routine is sufficient to boost your mental and physical health. The key is to figure out what exercise works best for you; make sure to challenge yourself, but avoid pushing yourself past your limits. 

If you aren’t comfortable working out at home or unsure of what exercises to do, consider joining the morning gym classes at South High. There are two courses: Strength and Conditioning and Swimming for Fitness, both of which are taught by Coach DiLevo. Strength and Conditioning mainly involves intense cardiovascular conditioning, such as running at the track, or resistance training in the weight room. Swimming is also an excellent morning exercise because the act of controlled breathing improves your body’s oxygen circulation, which alleviates stress, reduces fatigue, and increases your energy.

However, it isn’t easy to wake up early one morning and start exercising—especially if you are used to waking up at 7:45 a.m. before school. Morning exercise requires the establishment of a consistent routine, which can take anywhere from several weeks to a few months to acclimate to. If you ever struggle to maintain a consistent schedule, remember to be patient. Try little things each day to start sleeping and waking up earlier, and always try to incorporate some form of exercise in your morning routine, even if it is merely one minute of jumping jacks—you’ll see a noticeable improvement in your overall physical and mental well-being.