If you struggle to get out of bed in the morning, lacing up your running shoes and heading right out the door might seem counterintuitive. But there are many benefits to an early morning run, including increased energy and decreased appetite throughout the day. There's also the simple satisfaction of knowing you've gotten your workout out of the way before facing the conflicting pulls on your time and attention of work, school, friends or family.
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Although running is a wonderful, healthy exercise at any time of day, the potential benefits of running in the morning include better appetite control, deeper sleep, stress reduction and lower nighttime blood pressure.
Building a Healthy Habit
If you struggle to build a healthy workout habit, beginning a morning workout regimen can help you create a lifelong habit with a world of proven health benefits, from improved mood to a healthier heart and a stronger immune system.
According to a 2010 article in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes an average of 66 days for a habit to reach its peak "automaticity," which is basically what it sounds like — becoming a reflexive component of your daily habits. If you struggle with consistency, working out in the mornings is a great way to build that healthy habit before the conflicting demands of work, family or school have a chance to derail it.
Knowing you've started your day with such a healthy activity creates a real sense of satisfaction. And if you're trying to find time for other healthy activities — whether that's running in the morning and lifting in the afternoon or joining a sports team — getting your run in early means one less conflict with those activities.
A Jolt of Energy
The battle to get moving in the morning is very real — but if you can get yourself to head out the door for a run, you'll be rewarded with higher energy and better focus. In a 2015 issue of the journal Fatigue: Biomedicine, Health & Behavior, researchers found that exercise improved sustained attention in a task that was deliberately created to be mentally fatiguing. It's important to note that you don't have to be super-fit to reap that benefit; it was independent of the subjects' levels of fitness.
You Might Sleep Better
Although it may seem counterintuitive, early morning runs might be just the trick to help you sleep better at night. In a 2014 study published in the journal Vascular Health and Risk Management, researchers found that morning workouts contributed to more time in deep sleep than afternoon or evening workouts.
Another study, published in a 2017 issue of Sleep Medicine, showed that morning workouts seem to be especially useful at improving sleep for people who have difficulty falling asleep.
Lower Blood Pressure
Exercising at any time of day can help reduce high blood pressure. But the same Vascular Health and Risk Management study that demonstrated the benefits of early morning workouts for sleep also found that early morning workouts contributed to a greater dip in nighttime diastolic blood pressure for a group of pre-hypertensive subjects, reducing the stress on their cardiovascular systems.
Running for Hunger Control
If you've ever been ravenous after a tough workout, you're not alone — it's a common reaction. But interestingly, a 2012 study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that exercising for 45 minutes in the morning decreased the subjects' response to images of food. The subjects who worked out in the morning also got much more physical activity in the following 24 hours than the control group that didn't exercise.
Eating Before or After Running
If you're thinking of running in the morning for weight loss, you face an important question: Should you eat breakfast before you work out? The jury's still out on that, but a 2017 systematic review published in the Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology showed that of the available studies, the effects on fat loss of running without first having eating were trivial to small at best, and ultimately inconclusive. So until science says otherwise, you should base your with-or-without-breakfast running choice on what feels best to you.
Whichever option you choose, nutrition is a critical component of any exercise program; so if you take the no-breakfast route, make sure to follow it up with a healthy lunch and dinner. If you need a place to start, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020, offers a range of healthy patterns to focus on, including eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, high-quality lean meats and whole grains, while limiting your intake of sugar, sodium and saturated fats.
All Movement Is Good
Although going for a morning run provides many benefits, it won't work for every schedule or lifestyle. Maybe you don't have time to run before your morning commute; perhaps it's not safe to run in the dark where you live; or, maybe you just can't muster the motivation until later in the day. Don't worry. Any aerobic exercise you can work into your day packs a world of health benefits, even if you end up doing it in the afternoon.
About That Morning Darkness
There's one potential downside to going for early morning runs: If you're running in the dark, it's harder for passing vehicles or fast-moving cyclists to see and avoid you. Make their job — and your life — easier by wearing reflective running gear. You'll find reflective piping and thread on almost anything from shoes to running tights, jackets, hats and gloves, or you can add your own reflective stitching or purchase reflective tape to put on your clothes.
If your normal running route isn't well-lighted, wearing a headlamp can help. Not only does it make you more visible to others, it also helps you see where you're putting your feet.
- European Journal of Social Psychology: How Are Habits Formed: Modelling Habit Formation in the Real World
- Vascular Health and Risk Management
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Natural Response to Pictures of Food After Exercise in Normal-Weight and Obese Women
- Health.gov: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2015-2020: Chapter 1. Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns
- Mayo Clinic: Aerobic Exercise: Top 10 Reasons to Get Physical
- Fatigue: Biomedicine, Health & Behavior: Exercise and Caffeine Improve Sustained Attention Following Fatigue Independent of Fitness Status
- Sleep Medicine: Effects of Acute Morning and Evening Exercise on Subjective and Objective Sleep Quality in Older Individuals With Insomnia
- Journal of Functional Morphology and Kinesiology: Effect of Overnight Fasted Exercise on Weight Loss and Body Composition: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis