In this article, I unpack the scientifically proven benefits of morning movement. Why morning movement? We all know that movement is good for us. But, did you know that the time of day has a part to play in our wellbeing, too?
I’ll give you specifics on the best way to get started with a movement routine that keeps you energised throughout the day.
A recent coaching session with a client was all about this topic. She knew that her body benefits from morning movement and she was looking for clarity on why it was important for her to create a routine that incorporates it. After she had figured out what it was she wanted to do, the inevitable when came up too. Like most interventions (i.e medication or gratitude journaling), the timing and intensity matters.
We both value efficiency and effectiveness. As a physiotherapist, and functional health coach, bringing in the science behind exercise prescription is second nature.
Here is what the science is telling us about the benefits of morning movement.
Two Scientifically Proven Benefits of Morning Movement
- Movement first thing in the morning burns more fat.
When you wake up you’re naturally in a fasted state. Fasting lowers circulating insulin levels and increases liver glycogen breakdown, suggesting that long and slow movement during this state leads to greater fat burning compared to exercising after eating (De Bock et al., 2005).
- You burn more fat at rest after exercising in a fasted state.
The rate of fat burning at rest after training in a fasted state is increased (compared to the same exercise done after eating), leading to decreased body fat content (Chaouach et al., 2009 in Zouhal et al., 2020).
In contrast, eating before exercise increases insulin levels (which can remain elevated for about 3 hours). It can also reduce the effect of important metabolic responses (such as lipolysis enzymes, fatty acid transports and fat oxidation) induced by exercise during a fasting state (Van Proeyen, et al. 2011).
One small change to your morning routine can have a lasting impact on your body throughout the day!
The key idea captured here is that endurance training – a slow, steady-state – while fasting decreases body weight in both trained and untrained individuals (Zouhal et al.2020). Importantly, there isn’t clear, good evidence to say that your high-intensity training benefits from you being in a fasted state. So rather keep these sessions for when you’re fuelled.
These two reasons provide a compelling argument for morning movement, especially if you have weight to lose and /or you are looking to make a positive impact on your metabolic health.
Are you scared of first-thing, morning movement?
Are you scared of exercising in a fasted state? You’re not alone. We’re often encouraged to eat 3 meals a day, and snack in between. The idea of going for a longer period without eating, and exercising on top of that might be daunting. However, there are benefits to fasting that can transform your health. I’ve written an article on the Ancient Secret to Intermittent Fasting that unpacks the benefits and when NOT to do it, and a guide to get started.
If you’re still scared, take a snack with you and use it if you need it!
Putting the Science into Action
The World Health Organisation recommends that healthy adults:
- should do at least 150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity;
- or at least 75–150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity; or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity throughout the week
Theses recommendations are extended, and additional guidance is given if you have a chronic condition such as type II diabetes. Crucially, it recommends at least two strength sessions a week, and encourages you to reduce sedentary time in your day.
Your goal: fast walking for an hour, 5 days a week, first thing in the morning. Use a standing desk for half the day (one hour on, one hour off), and, if you feel up to it, do two, 30-minute strength sessions a week.
You know YOU best
To make long-term health changes and for this to be sustainable for you, the type of exercise you choose must be something you could see yourself enjoying! If it’s not walking, it might be a dance class, or cycling or hiking. You have this valuable information.
Finding an exercise that you enjoy is like hitting jackpot!
What’s more, incorporating your favourite exercise first thing in the morning is even better. Your body benefits, your mind benefits, and the people around you benefit.
There is an upward spiral of wellbeing that is started all by just taking a tiny step towards your health.
Chaouachi A, Coutts AJ, Chamari K, Wong del P, Chaouachi M, Chtara M, Roky R, Amri M. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Dec; 23(9):2702-9.
De Bock K, Richter EA, Russell AP, Eijnde BO, Derave W, Ramaekers M, Koninckx E, Léger B, Verhaeghe J, Hespel P. J Physiol. 2005 Apr 15; 564(Pt 2):649-60.
Van Proeyen K, Szlufcik K, Nielens H, Ramaekers M, Hespel P. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2011 Jan; 110(1):236-45.
Zouhal H, Saeidi A, Salhi A, Li H, Essop MF, Laher I, Rhibi F, Amani-Shalamzari S, Ben Abderrahman A. Exercise Training and Fasting: Current Insights. Open Access J Sports Med. 2020 Jan 21;11:1-28. doi: 10.2147/OAJSM.S224919. PMID: 32021500; PMCID: PMC6983467.