Chapter 2: Soothe Your Mornings
Yes, You Should Exercise in the Morning
You can feed yourself breakfast, but are you feeding your mind in the morning? That jolt of coffee doesn’t count because that’s just artificial stimulation. Exercise actually increases the birth and development of new nerve cells in your brain, and these nerve cells are also the components of your brain that slow down and even die because of stress. A recent study shows that people who don’t exercise much exhibit greater stress-related atrophy of the hippocampus area of the brain compared with those who are more physically active. You want to keep the stressors down because the hippocampus affects long- and short-term memory along with a myriad of other important functions.
If your brain isn’t a good enough reason to hit the treadmill or the jogging path in the morning, consider that exercise not only naturally lowers your stress levels but also increases your self-confidence because it jump-starts the production of endorphins (your feel-good boosters). Exercise actually helps you settle into a state of well-being, which is a great way to start the day, if you ask me.
According to a study at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, when you move even at a moderate pace, you release neuropeptides, brain chemicals that counteract the stress response. So get out there and get moving to start our day.
My favorite morning workout exercises include:
• Plank. A basic plank is supporting your body weight on your elbows and using your legs a lift off the ground until you’re parallel with the floor. Keeping your core tight, hold for as long as you can. On really good days, I hold for upwards of two minutes. To make things more difficult, try raising one foot off the floor and balancing on just your arms and the other foot, then switching feet.
• Superman Stretch. In this exercise, you lie on your stomach and lift your arms and legs a few inches off the ground, mimicking Superman flying in the sky. This is a yoga and Pilates move that really gets the blood flowing.
• Corner Stretch. Stand facing the corner of your room. Raise your elbows to shoulder height. Place your forearms, elbow, and palms against either wall in the corner. Now just lean in and flex your chest and back muscles. Hold for 15 seconds while breathing deeply. (You can also do this throughout the day when you feel stressed).
• Push-ups. I like these more than sit-ups for some reason. Every single day I like to add one more because it feels like I’m accomplishing something. Of course, eventually you could be doing thousands of push-ups, so I suggest sets of 10.
• Wall Sit. Stand with your back against a wall and your feet about a foot and a half in front of you. Slide down the wall until your legs create a 90-degree angle, making sure your knees do not move past your ankles. Hold for as long as you can!
• Suitcases. Sit on the floor with your knees bent and your feet on the ground. Lift your feet off the ground so you’re balancing on your bottom, and take your arms out to the side. To do one rep, straighten your legs out in front of you and take your back down until it almost touches the floor, then sit back up, keeping your feet off the floor the entire time. You’re mimicking a suitcase opening and closing – and working up quite an ab burn!
• Stairs. I’ll think of a reason to go down to my basement and walk up and down the stairs several times. I make sure to take a couple of trips and bring something down with me each time. It’s de-stressing because I’m working out and organizing my house at the same time.
• Walking. I’ll take a walk around my Cleveland neighborhood or a stroll in the park, or I’ll walk to my office.
• Stretch. Sit with your legs crossed in front of you. With a hand on either knee, push your needs gently toward the floor.