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This weekend is the perfect time to start a morning workout routine — here's why

Use the end of daylight saving time to optimize your workout schedule.
More exposure to light in the morning can help you wake up and hit the ground running (literally). TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

This weekend marks the end of daylight saving time. Many of us dread losing precious after-work daylight this time of year. I, for one, am mourning my after-work walks around the neighborhood, which starting next week will require reflective gear.

“The day getting darker earlier can disrupt those fitness buffs that use outdoors as their environment to exercise,” Michele Smallidge, lecturer and director of the exercise science program at University of New Haven told TODAY. “Individuals that had set an after-work outdoor cardiovascular training plan such as walk, run, bike ride or row, throughout spring and summer, may now have to find an alternative plan or modify the way they get it done.”

While the transition is an adjustment, experts say we are actually getting back to a daylight schedule that complements our circadian rhythm. (Which is why many of them argue to get rid of seasonal time changes altogether.).

Standard time is best aligned with human circadian biology as it enables most people to sleep better at night and feel more alert during the day.

“When we set clocks back one hour on Nov. 7 we will return to standard time, and most Americans will experience more exposure to light in the morning and less exposure to light in the evening,” Erin Flynn-Evans, a circadian physiologist who leads a large sleep research lab, told TODAY. “During standard time, your body clock, the timing of sunrise and sunset, and local clock time are more in sync than during daylight saving time. Standard time is best aligned with human circadian biology as it enables most people to sleep better at night and feel more alert during the day.”

The shift in daylight has me rethinking my workout routine for practical reasons — the 6 p.m. walks will soon be shelved until longer days return — but there may be even more reason to make some shifts to our fitness routine right now.

“Changing behaviors and adapting new routines can be difficult during any time of the year, however using (the end of) daylight saving time as a cue to start a new routine can be the primer to put new early morning habits in place,” says Smallidge.

Here’s how to use the return to standard time — and the promise of better sleep and more energy — to supercharge your workouts.

Adopt an earlier bedtime

More exposure to light in the morning and less exposure to light at night “provides an ideal opportunity to make healthy sleep a priority by adopting an earlier bedtime,” said Flynn-Evans. “Your body will be ready for sleep one hour earlier than normal by the clock on the Sunday after the time change (remember, fall back means 11 p.m. becomes 10 p.m.). Take advantage of this by maintaining a one-hour earlier bedtime after the time change.”

Sleep and exercise have a symbiotic relationship: We get more out of our workouts when we are well-rested and exercise improves our sleep quality. So right now is a great time to make both a priority. “Sufficient sleep is one of the three pillars of a healthy lifestyle — along with good nutrition and regular exercise. As such, even small amounts of routine physical activity may improve your sleep and overall well-being,” said Flynn-Evans. “A survey of more than 155,000 adults in the U.S. asked participants if they had exercised at all in the past month, such as by running, golfing, gardening or walking. Those who had were one-third less likely to report sleep problems and half as likely to report daytime tiredness.”

Give morning workouts a try

Yes, the shift in daylight may throw a wrench in your plans for an evening run in the park, but on the upside, we are blessed with more daylight in the morning, making it the perfect time to attempt that morning workout routine.

“The one-hour time shift during the fall switch to standard time results in more exposure to light in the morning ... It is easier for most people to wake up in the morning when it is light out," said Flynn-Evans. "Similarly, it is easier for most people to go to bed earlier when it is darker earlier in the evening, which allows for a longer night of sleep.”

Moving early in the day can also give your mental health a boost, which we could all use during a time when less light and cold weather weigh on us. “Physical activity stimulates various chemicals in the brain that may leave you feeling happier, more relaxed and less anxious," says Smallidge. "Starting one’s day with a healthy mindset can be rewarding and assist in keeping habits and productivity on track throughout the day.”

In addition to getting to bed earlier, use these simple tip to make morning workouts a habit:

  1. Get ready the night before. “The less you have to do to get started, the easier a morning exercise workout will be,” said Anel Pla, a certified personal trainer at Simplexity Fitness. “Put your exercise clothing and shoes beside the bed so you can grab for them as soon as your legs hit the floor.”
  2. Take baby steps. “If this is a difficult task to do every day, start with setting a three-day goal to start … and once you are able to complete this goal successfully, add in the other days,” says Smallidge.
  3. Do it at home. Getting to the gym or even outside adds additional barriers (like extra time and braving the cold). “Try working out at home in the morning, to transition into the process,” says Pla. “Play your favorite music, buy some weights, kettlebells or resistance bands and a mat and start moving. There are plenty of fitness apps or options online for you to choose.”
  4. Think of exercise as a scheduled appointment. If you have to be at work or have a doctor’s appointment, you’re not going to hit snooze. “Schedule a time in the morning for your workout and make sure you show up,” says Pla.

But if it doesn’t work, don’t force it

“While morning workouts definitely have their benefits, there is no magical best time to work out. You don’t lose more weight or gain more muscle due to the time of day,” said Pla. “The best time to exercise is when you will do it consistently. If you are not a morning person and don’t want to exercise in the mornings, then go ahead and enjoy that extra hour of sleep, and do your workout at night.”

If you're working remotely, "consider exercising over the lunch hour instead of in the evening before bed,” said Flynn-Evans.

Evening workouts shouldn’t affect the sleep quality of those who sleep well or are used to exercising at night, said Flynn-Evans, but she suggests setting aside time afterward to “decompress and relax before bedtime and practice good sleep hygiene.”

Capitalize on morning energy with a cardio workout

"In general, light exposure in the morning shifts the drive to sleep and wake earlier. Exposing yourself to bright light, ideally sunlight, first thing in the morning can help you wake up faster,” says Flynn-Evans.

Use that wake-up-and-go energy to log a high-intensity morning workout.

“If your schedule permits you can always do your cardiovascular exercise in the morning and save strength-training for later in the day,” says Pla. But if you want to get the most bang for you buck, she recommends circuit-training workouts in the morning.

“It’s functional, where you can get both cardio and strength-training into an effective, total-body workout,” said Pla. “When I train my morning clients I'm always including strength training for multiple muscle groups with minimal rest, you can burn more calories during and after this intense bout of exercise as opposed to slower, steady-state cardio.” This style of training is “a great option for anyone who doesn’t have a ton of time to workout and adds variety to your workout,” she added.

Use the dark hours as a cue for self-care activities like yoga and mediation

If you’re able to check your workout off the list first thing in the morning, utilize the time before bed to do a low-impact, restorative activity.

“Restful and low-impact activities like yoga, breathing exercises and meditation before bed may be effective for some people in aiding better sleep,” said Flynn-Evans. “Studies have shown that practicing yoga can help improve mental and emotional health and stress, relieve some types of pain and improve sleep. Deep breathing, often associated with meditation and yoga, can also benefit healthy sleep as deep breathing lowers your heart rate and relaxes the body to prepare for a more restful sleep.”

Wind down with one of these restorative routines: