Learn to love AM exercise

It's a necessity to stay fit and healthy, and one that you should be fitting into your day, whatever your lifestyle.

Exercise is for people with time on their hands, right? Wrong. Exercise shouldn't be considered a luxury; it's a necessity to stay fit and healthy, and one that you should be fitting into your day, whatever your lifestyle.

Exercise is for people with time on their hands, right? Wrong. Exercise shouldn't be considered a luxury; it's a necessity to stay fit and healthy, and one that you should be fitting into your day, whatever your lifestyle.

Working out is the last thing most people want to do after a long day at work. Throw in some impromptu dinner dates, last-minute meetings, impending deadlines or plain-old hunger and tiredness and you have some very convenient 'outs' to skip that workout.

But the excuses soon mount up and, before you know it, what started out as an exercise regime soon becomes an after-thought.

Early morning workouts are the perfect solution to the problem; there are less obstacles (apart from a fluffy pillow) and demands for your time at 6am than at 6pm.

Better yet, there's extensive research to suggest AM exercise might even be better for you than its PM counterpart. "The amount of calories you burn during the day depends on how revved up you are," says Patrick Mackeogh, chief trainer at Yourfitness and head of training at Underground Fitness.

"A great way to get the body activated and the engine burning right through the day is to get training early in the morning."

Exercising early jump-starts your metabolism, keeping it elevated for hours. As a result, you'll be burning more calories all day long. After all, the early bird catches the burn, right?

"Your body will be in optimal fat-burning territory for longer periods during the day due to raising the heart rate early. Think of it as getting more beats per day because you're getting it going early," says Patrick.

It also helps energise you for the day, not to mention giving you a gratifying feeling you've done something good and disciplined before most people have even zapped their porridge.

Studies have also shown that exercise significantly increases mental acuity, enhancing the secretion of neurotransmitters, a benefit that lasts long after your workout ends, which means a brainpower boost too.

"It gets you centred and motivated for the day. It's also a lot easier psychologically to avoid bad foods when you've already worked hard," reveals Patrick.

The good news is you don't have to be a morning person to become a morning exerciser. It takes hard work, practice and a stealthy dedication, but the results are worth it. Start gradually; it takes time to establish a routine, so commit to one morning workout a week and gradually increase from there.

Establishing a good sleeping pattern is paramount. Go to bed earlier in order to wake in time and feel energised. Decide what time you'll need to start waking up at to make your workout happen, and then calculate what your new ideal bedtime should be (most experts recommend seven to eight hours of sleep each night for best health and weight-loss results).

The key is to be prepared so you don't get too overwhelmed with all you have to do when the alarm sounds. Pack your gym bag with your work clothes the night before. Make sure you have everything you need. That way, you can be out the door quickly. If you're working out at home, set up your mat and props.

Be specific when you schedule in a session. Outline the days you are going to exercise and what you're going to do. That way, you can make the most of the time you have.

"Try to involve weights," advises Patrick. "Activating your muscles is much better for getting your metabolism going through the day. Unlike regular cardio that just burns calories and gets your heart rate up, fast-paced weight training like circuits will create a carbohydrate deficit as you burn off the sugars you store in your muscles. The carbs you eat through the day will then be used up, replacing these sugar stores, leaving you in a fat-burning state all day long."

Sign up to a class, book a session with a trainer or join forces with a friend. If you have a specific time and place to be, and someone counting on you, the less chance there is of you hitting the snooze button.

Even if you are short on time, be sure to schedule in some stretching. "Warm up and cool down effectively," suggests Patrick. "You are more inclined to be stiff in the morning, so jumping in too early is a recipe for injury."

Always have a plan B. A workout DVD is a great alternative for days when you can't exercise outdoors or the gym membership has unexpectedly expired.

Rosaleen McMeel is senior editor of IMAGE Magazine.

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