Published on: 10/04/2022
Whatever form of exercise you enjoy doing, you will have heard of the health benefits of having a consistent routine. General medical advice around the world reminds us that aerobic exercise, even just 30 minutes a few times a week, is excellent for helping us live longer, enjoy deep sleep, and improve our quality of life.
But is there a perfect time to run , and what is the difference between doing an early morning run before work and doing afternoon or evening workouts? Are there benefits to running in the morning in particular?
In this article, we’ll review science-backed reasons why morning exercise benefits runners and those engaging in other forms of physical activity. Find out why you should set your alarm a little earlier and how to start with a consistent morning exercise routine.
9 Benefits of Running in the Morning
Aerobic exercise, in general, is good for your health. This is what the doctors tell us (1), and it’s been proven through various studies and historical research into how humans have developed (2). Logically, then, a consistent workout schedule that includes running will also be good for your health. Below, we look at what makes that morning run extra special – and better than any other time of day.
1. Getting it done
A staggering 42% of British people interviewed by The Sun newspaper (3) claimed they couldn’t find the time to exercise. Another study shows that time is an issue for almost half of Americans (4). By the time busy working people come home and do whatever chores are left, sort out kids and dinners, many will completely ignore those running shoes waiting by the back door.
However, if you set your alarm just 30 minutes earlier in the morning, you could start your day with short morning workouts that get you moving and done with it before the craziness of the day sets in. And 30 minutes is all it takes in the beginning, as you won’t need to start going out for hours when you’re running in the morning.
In fact, to make sure the habit sticks, start with a 20-minute jog at first, allowing you time to shower and get ready for the day. No more excuses!
2. Improved diet
Studies show that those who stick to a consistent morning run make better food choices as the day progresses. An International Journal of Obesity 2018 study (5) found that college students who stuck to a routine of three 30-minute morning runs or cardiovascular exercise per week ended up eating more healthily. This included fewer fried foods and reduced meat consumption.
Potentially, the simple fact of having gone running in the morning sets you up with a healthier mindset. This is linked to having a set schedule for your morning workout, too. And, as we’ve seen above, if your routine is to exercise early in the morning, you’re less likely to skip that run.
3. Better mood throughout the day
Spending time in nature (6) is essential for improving our calmness and focus and fighting seasonal depression or low moods. Add to that the fact that this is how you start your day, and you can see how you’ll be uplifted from that first-morning workout.
Studies show that a minimum of two hours in nature can have incredibly positive benefits on mental health. Moreover, the practice of “forest bathing” (shinrin-yoku (7)) has been proven to reduce mental health symptoms.
Therefore, morning running can set you up for a happier, more relaxed, and serene day ahead. And, if you’re unable to go outside for a run, simply moving your body in the early mornings contributes to releasing endorphins, or as per more recent research, endocannabinoids (8) which make you feel happier. The latter has been linked to the so-called “runner’s high” feeling – a reduction in stress and even a hit of euphoria after exercise. What better time to get this than in the morning, ensuring you have a great day afterward?
4. More efficient fuel consumption
While research is conflicting on whether you should run on an empty stomach, there are some benefits to experimenting with running in a fasted state. Morning runners who go out before breakfast tap into glycogen stores which start somewhat depleted (after dinner, our bodies use up some of the carbs stored in our muscles and liver while we sleep). As a result, many studies have shown that early morning runs without fueling beforehand lead to our bodies using some of the stored fat instead of carbs.
This may look like great news for fat loss and runners looking to increase their endurance performance (diversifying their fuel source), but there are limits to the potential benefits. Firstly, you should only be doing fasted runs at low intensity – this will help move energy sources (9) to your fat stores. Secondly, female athletes may damage their hormonal systems more from a morning jog. According to Dr. Stacy Sims’ research (10), consistent running with high cortisol levels (a stress hormone that increases in the body when in a low-energy state) can have severe adverse effects on reproductive health.
However, a low-intensity morning jog with a small snack beforehand (think an oatcake with honey and a glass of water) can be a good way to start your day with a slight energy boost and still tap into glycogen stores during your session.
One of the key benefits of running in the morning is that it allows us to develop a consistent program for working out. Because you put your running ahead of everything else you’re doing that day, you’ll be more committed, your mind will be clear of other preoccupations, and you’ll be more likely to complete every session.
This can have many benefits for those looking to lose weight or training for specific fitness goals. Consistency is one of the cornerstones of success in both these endeavors.
6. Improved sleep
Some studies (11) indicate that adults who exercise early in the day have better sleep quality and don’t have the same difficulty falling asleep that their peers experience. Whether it’s the fresh air or the light exposure that boosts melatonin levels at night, morning running has been proven beneficial for stimulating deep sleep and helping adults have better consistency in their sleeping patterns.
7. Healthy habits lead to overall health
Combining the consistency, the better food choices, and the regular exercise you can get from running in the morning creates a recipe for improved overall health. For example, regular running helps reduce high blood pressure – a condition affecting 1 in 3 adult Americans. The same 2014 study mentioned above around improved sleep quality also discovered that prehypertensive adults that went for a run in the morning had better outcomes in reducing their blood pressure than those who did so in the middle of the day or the evening.
Of course, an evening run can still work, but a 7 am session had a more significant impact.
The other significant benefit is that physical activity helps manage type 1 diabetes. Although people suffering from this condition can have a hard time working out because of their risk of hypoglycemia (12), a 2015 study (13) published in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology found that morning workouts reduce this risk. We’ve mentioned a potential increase in cortisol levels when running in the morning. This hormone helps control blood sugar, so it can be the reason why morning runs are better for those at risk of type 1 diabetes.
8. Better mental focus
Regardless of the time of day you exercise, getting active can improve your mental alertness and focus levels. A morning run can improve attention, visual learning, and decision-making, as shown by a 2019 study (14) from the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
For many of us, running in the morning is an opportunity to enjoy nature in solitude before any of the usual distractions enter our lives. It’s a time of an almost meditative state, which many credit with increased creativity and productivity as they put order in their thoughts and prepare for what they expect their day to be like.
9. Cooler temperatures
Finally, regardless of where you live, exercising in the morning will likely get you out of the house during the coldest time of the day. A lot has been written recently about the benefits of cold temperatures on mental well-being, blood circulation, and more, thanks to the recent focus on wild or cold water swimming (15).
But you don’t have to plunge into icy waters for these benefits. Running in the morning can wake you up, make you feel more alert thanks to the crisp air, and get your blood pumping to warm you up in cool air.
Moreover, if you live in a hot climate or are struggling to exercise during summer, going for an early run in the morning avoids the worst of the heat.
How to Get Started with Morning Runs
You may be sold on the morning run benefits, but what can you do to develop this habit naturally if you’re not a morning person? If you can’t imagine giving up evening exercise and waking up that tiny bit earlier, don’t despair. Here are some tips to help you on your journey to becoming a morning runner:
Start the night before
Before you go to bed, lay yourself a “trap” of running clothes by the bed, so you can’t go through to the bathroom without stepping on them. This will remind you to put them on, and once you’ve done that, you’re almost as good as getting out the door.
Develop good sleep hygiene
To help you sleep better and earlier, avoid caffeine or alcohol for at least 3 hours before bedtime. Make sure your bedroom is quiet and cool, and plan to go to sleep at the same time every night. And avoid any electronic devices for an hour before bedtime. All this will help you go to bed earlier and make it easier to wake up earlier.
Keep your alarm clock far away
Instead of having it on the bedside table where you can snooze it, keep your phone or clock somewhere you need to get up to turn it off. This means you need to take a few steps onto your gym clothes, reminding you of your morning run and making it more likely to go for it.
Get a buddy
Accountability is one of the key drivers of early exercise adopters. Find someone who already runs in the morning and arrange to join them, or set off on your challenge with a friend. When one of you feels like dropping out, the other can hold them to their promise!
Plan a route in advance
It’s more exciting when you know you have something to look forward during your early morning run. If you’re heading outdoors, plan routes that take you to new areas of your neighborhood so you switch it up frequently and your mind is stimulated by the new things you’re coming in contact with. And, if the route is already on your running watch, that’s one less obstacle to your leaving the house.
We’ve discussed why it’s better not to run on an empty stomach. This doesn’t mean you have to prep well in advance or waste too long getting ready. Have a small piece of toast with some honey on it or a breakfast bar, easily digestible carbs that will give you a bit of a boost without making you feel sluggish. It takes no time to prep, either.
Wear reflective clothing and, if it’s dark when you start running, wear a headlamp to light the way and make you more visible to others (especially cars). Choose areas that you know are safe, and don’t head into very remote spots. Let someone know you’re off to run and when you think you might be back. And don’t carry anything of great value, such as jewelry, but having some form of ID with you is a good idea.
For more tips, check out our article on staying safe while running at night.
Morning Running for Health and Wellbeing
Going for a run in the morning can set you up for an entire day of increased activity levels, better food choices, increased mental accuracy, and lower stress levels. It is a great idea for those wanting to follow a training plan and failing to hit their workouts because of lack of time. It is also a great way to start exercising with the help of fresh air and the energy that being in nature can give your mind and body.
As long as you stay safe, increase your exercise load incrementally, and fuel properly, running early in the morning can become the favorite part of your daily routine, giving you multiple benefits.
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University Of Utah
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The inﬂuence of 15-week exercise training on dietary patterns among young adults
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International Journal of Obesity
7 Benefits of Spending Time in Nature
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Yasuhiro Kotera et al. (2020)
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The ‘runner’s high’ may result from molecules called cannabinoids – the body’s own version of THC and CBD
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Fasted Training May Have Long-Term Risks, Especially For Female Athletes
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Everything You Need to Know About Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar)
Rachel Nall (2021)
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8 Benefits of Cold Water Swimming