01.12.12: You Don’t Have to be a Morning Person, But It Helps.

When you start your lifestyle change journey, you must plan and prepare.  You also must be realistic and thoughtful about your goals and your life.

For instance, if you’ve been sedentary for a long time, don’t tell yourself, “I’m going to walk 5 miles every day.”  You may make it on Day One, but it’s doubtful that you’ll be pounding the pavement on Day Eleven.  Your feet will hurt, if nothing else.

Don’t make your plans contingent on other people, either.  For instance, I have learned the hard way not to bank on getting things done during the Wee One’s naptime.  The more I need time to do something, the more likely it is that naptime will happen an hour earlier or later, or be an hour shorter.  And grown people are just as unpredictable as a toddler, if not more so – meetings run long, emergencies (real and imagined) crop up, and your carefully laid plans go kaput, leaving you feeling mad, defeated and powerless – not exactly fertile ground in which to plant the seeds of a healthy life, eh?

Which brings me to today’s real topic: timing.  It’s important that your timing is right in a total sense; that is, you’re emotionally ready to make a change and you’re ready to commit for good.  Timing is also critical in a hands-on sense: when are you going to exercise?  When will you prepare healthful meals?  When will you have time to pee because you’re drinking so much more water?  [I’m kidding.  Well, I’m not kidding about having to pee all the time, but I’m not suggesting that you plug pee breaks into your Day Planner.  Unless you feel like you have to, in which case, Lord love you.]

If you’re not a morning person, you probably won’t become one overnight, so don’t hang your lifestyle change hat on all of a sudden waking up an hour and a half earlier to exercise and make your lunch.  However.  If you’re not a morning person, you might consider cultivating a few new habits over time and becoming one.  I’ll tell you this – it might be the only peace and quiet you get all day long, and that’s no exaggeration.

Compliance (and therefore success rates) is higher in people who exercise in the morning.  Academic research supports this notion, I’ve observed it in action, and common sense supports it.  But let’s think about why.

I don’t subscribe to the notion that people who get up early to exercise are inherently better people than those who exercise later in the day, because I’ve known plenty of people who exercise in the evenings and who are dedicated and successful.  I will say, however, that there is a distinctly virtuous air in the mornings in the health club.  That feeling of virtue and accomplishment comes from … accomplishing something.  When you get up early and exercise, the rest of the day may be crappy, but you started it out right.  I guarantee that your outlook will be better and you’ll have more positive energy, which means you’ll be better able to cope with whatever rolls your way.

Maybe people who commit to exercise in the morning are just more committed to the lifestyle in general – by lacing up their shoes before the sun comes up, they’re sacrificing sleep and choosing to move rather than to stay horizontal (and cozy and warm …).  If you’re committed enough to leave that bed behind, then you’re committed enough to turn down brownies and forgo the drive-thru, too.

When you exercise in the morning, you’ve checked that box on your “to do” list.  Let’s face it, you’ve gotten it over with!  Plus, you haven’t given yourself a chance to talk yourself out of it in the afternoon.  When I was a full-time personal trainer, most of my clients came to the gym after work.  How many times did I get calls to cancel sessions because they couldn’t get away from the office in time?  How cancellations came because they were just so wiped out, all they could think about doing was going home and going to bed?  Often, they’d rush in right at their appointment time, having broken several laws of traffic and physics to get there.  They kept their Blackberries nearby at all times.  They couldn’t unwind or focus on their workout.  They were starving, or they’d just crammed an energy bar down their throats in the car.  Not exactly the best environment to make positive change, eh?

Many people find great stress relief in exercising after work.  I thought a few folks would break the elliptical machines as they sweat out their frustrations.  I believe that those benefits were, overall, outweighed by the challenges (real and perceived, and overblown and invented) that popped up to keep them out of the gym.  Why not start your day with positive, strong energy from a good workout – one that happens on your timetable and your terms and isn’t squeezed in between your other commitments, or unduly influenced by outside factors?  How much stronger will you be when the stressors of the day kick in?  Will you even notice the stressors as much, or at all?

These observations are true for home exercisers, too.  If you get up in the morning and pop that DVD in for your workout, then all the things that come up during the day to get in your way, won’t.  Any time is the right time to exercise – but as you plan, make choices that maximize your likelihood of success.

Making your lifestyle change work means recognizing your barriers and excuses, and not allowing them to derail you.  Think ahead.  Do this work now, when you’re clearheaded and strong.  If your framework is in place, then you’re more likely to forge ahead and not fold when things get tough.

No, you’re not going to magically become a morning person – but you can become a healthy, well person!  Your strategy is up to you.  Today is Square One, friends.

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