This week’s challenge is to wake-up 30-minutes early and exercise for at least 20-minutes. Most people that resolve to wake-up early to exercise do it with the vague goal of losing some weight and getting into shape. Those are terrible goals for several reasons. First, they aren’t clearly defined. Second, they don’t contain any emotional intensity, and last, they don’t have any deadline to create a sense of urgency. I want you to wake-up early and exercise because it will prime your mind for peak performance.
This habit has more to do with the effects it will have on your mind, and much less to do with the effects it will have on your body. Most people know that exercise releases endorphin, the body’s homegrown brand of morphine, but what most people don’t realize is that it stimulates the brain.
Regular exercise has been shown to stimulate the production of Brain-derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF), a protein vital to the health and function of your brain and peripheral nervous system. BDNF has often been described by scientists as “Miracle-Gro for the brain” because it stimulates the production of new neurons. Low levels of BDNF is linked to Alzheimer’s, accelerated aging, poor neural development, neurotransmitter dysfunction, obesity, depression, and even schizophrenia. Nearly every abnormal state of cognitive function is attributed to low levels of BDNF.  I am not suggesting that exercise alone will make you smarter; it merely primes you for peak learning. After you have stimulated the brain, you need to take advantage of the newly formed neurons and wire-in some novel information.
After exercising, I like to begin each day by listening to an audiobook or reading a book while I commute to work on the bus. I also begin the workday with 30-minutes of professional reading before moving on to my most important task of the day. I purposely avoid checking email because it conditions you to be reactive. I want to start each day working on what is most important, and self-improvement is a never-ending priority. Researchers at the University of Muenster concluded that learning levels increased by 20 percent after strenuous exercise. Exercise improves learning and brain function. Working out each morning boosts your mental and physical performance.
Exercising each morning is crucial to becoming better. If there is one thing that universally makes people happy it is progress. When we are getting better and accomplishing meaningful things it releases dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical most closely related to long-term happiness. When our dopamine system is activated, we are more positive, excited and eager to go after goals.
Other benefits of regular exercise are more difficult to view under a microscope, but we all know that it improves mood, focus, energy, happiness, and creates a sense of wellbeing. There are unexpected benefits to forming healthy habits. Australian researchers, Megan Oaten and Ken Cheng, found that healthy habits lead to significant improvements in a wide range of regulatory behaviors such as less impulsive spending; better dietary habits; decreased alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine consumption; and fewer hours watching TV.
Daily exercise will naturally improve your physical performance and make daily tasks easier. As you get fitter and stronger, everyday tasks become less effortful. If you are consistent and do it every day, eventually you will become fit. I don’t know how long it will take for you to become fit, but you will become fit. We become what we repeatedly do. If you stay committed to working out daily, you will become fit. I wish more people focused on doing whatever form of exercise they prefer and being more consistent. It is essential that you enjoy your workouts. It is vital you fall in love with the process of getting in shape.
“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” – Aristotle
When you enjoy your workouts, you’ll naturally be more consistent. Start out slow. Don’t rush or get impatient. Gradually build up the intensity of your workouts, depending on your ultimate goals. Focus on consistency. Consistency is more potent than intensity. Success is all about taking daily action, not sporadic acts of determination. You might not lose all the weight you want to lose, but you’ll be fitter and stronger. After many years of training, I have come to the following conclusions.
If you want to improve mental and physical performance, focus primarily on exercise. If you want to improve your body composition, focus primarily on your diet, energy balance.
So what type of activity is optimal for stimulating your brain? Research has focused primarily on aerobic exercise because scientists still haven’t been able to teach lab rats to properly execute squats or deadlifts. Their attempts at simulating weight training have consisted of hanging weights on the tails of the rats and forcing them to climb. We don’t know the ideal, but as little as 15-minutes of moderately intense exercise, 60% of your maximum heart rate, appears to be adequate. Optimal stimulation seems to be 70% to 80% of your maximum heart rate sustained for 30 to 45 minutes.
Exercise that requires you to think, like learning to dance, can help stimulate BDNF because you are getting your heart rate up and forcing your mind to learn new movement patterns. Exercising outside, in the sun, also contributes to higher levels of BDNF. We were designed to move and think outdoors, not sit indoors, under artificial lights, in front of a glowing screen. Exercise frequency plays a significant role in the stimulation of BDNF. The more often, the better. Three times a week is sufficient, but daily exercise is optimal. We were designed to move daily. Modern life has sought to engineer movement out of our lives. If you want to perform at your best, you must actively engineer movement back into your day.
Good is not the enemy of great. Find something you enjoy doing because you will be more consistent. I am going to give you a few suggestions, for you to consider; helping you find something you might enjoy. The longer I exercise, the more value I see in each form of exercise. I don’t believe there are any ideal exercise programs. Each type of training has its pros and cons. I like to start each day with 10 to 15 minutes of moderate cardio on my spin bike while listening to an audiobook or motivational YouTube video. Then I finish with 5 to 10 minutes of intervals in the form of shadow boxing, calisthenics, kettlebell circuits, or intermittent sprints on the spin bike. Spin bikes are great. They are simple, offer a low impact form of exercise, require very little space, are quiet, and affordable. Because my spin bike doesn’t have any electronics, I can jump off the bike, shadow box, perform some kettlebell swings, or do calisthenics without the machine turning-off. During my lunch hour, I focus on strength training; completing three to five circuits of three to five basic compound exercises.
To make getting up easier, I charge my phone in my bathroom. It forces me to get out of bed. I lay out my workout clothing and my wireless headphones next to my cellphone each night because I want to facilitate working out. Every minute of your morning is valuable. You don’t want to waste time or energy deciding what to wear or searching for clothing. I immediately put on my headphones and start listening to something inspiring while I get dressed and grab a cup of coffee. While I sit and drink my coffee I read a few pages of my journal to reconnect with my gratitude list, goals, values, insights, etc. After about 10 to 15 minutes I am ready to work out. I grab the sports bottle I always keep in our refrigerator and head upstairs to work out.
If you don’t have a great attitude toward exercise, that’s OK. You can improve it by making a list of at least ten reasons you love to exercise and reading it every morning while you drink your coffee. Here is an example:
1) I love to exercise in the morning because it primes me for a great day.
2) I love to exercise because it improves my mood.
3) I love to exercise in the morning because it increases my energy.
4) I love to exercise because it improves my focus.
5) I love to exercise because it keeps me strong and fit.
6) I love to exercise because it improves my impulse control.
7) I love to exercise in the morning because it makes me feel like I have accomplished something important before I even get to work.
8) I love to exercise because it reconnects me with my body.
9) I love to exercise because it simply makes me feel wonderful.
10) I love to exercise in the morning because it inspires me to live a healthier lifestyle.
You don’t have to do what I do. Do what works best for you. Do whatever type of exercise you enjoy most. As long as it gets your heart rate up, it doesn’t matter. If you haven’t exercised in a while, I recommend you start with taking a 20-minute walk. When you feel ready, you can begin to work in some jogging. Pick a tree or a parked car in the distance, then jog to it. After a while, you can start jogging the entire time. If you cannot walk outside, you can walk inside, and mix in some stair climbing.
If you prefer to workout inside, there are a lot of options. There are tons of No Equipment Cardio Workouts on YouTube. Create a playlist of your favorites.
You could download Perigee AB’s FREE 7 Minute Workout app (Google or iTunes). For a 21-minute workout, you can elect to do three 7-minute circuits. John Ratey, author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain recommends this app. I like the app because I can do the exercises whenever I need a quick energy boost. A quick 7-minute workout will get your heart rate up, without getting you sweaty. My daughter often does it before going to school to prime herself to learn.
Another alternative to consider is shadow boxing. You’ll need an interval timer. My favorite is the Boxing Timer Pro by SIMPLETOUCH LLC (Google or iTunes). I will listen to music that pumps me up while performing 5 to 20 rounds consisting of 45-seconds of exercise followed by a 15 second recovery. You can vary your exercise to recovery ratios based on your current level of fitness. You can alternate shadow boxing with jumping rope or jumping jacks.
If you would like to incorporate some strength training into your morning workout, you can perform a few simple bodyweight exercises in a circuit every other day. For example:
1) Inverted Row or Pull-up
A. Inverted row: They can be performed between two chairs, using TRX style straps, or under a table.
B. Pull-up: The Lifeline Power Up Chin-Up turns any door into a pull-up station for less than $15.
2) Dip (between chairs) or push-ups
A. If you can do more than 20 push-ups with great form, you can make them more challenging by slowing down the negative portion of the movement, pausing, and then explode off the ground as high as possible.
3) Bulgarian Split Squat (left leg)
A. If you can perform more than 20 repetitions, you can make the exercise more difficult by wearing a backpack, slowing the negative portion of the movement, and pausing before exploding up off the ground (Bulgarian Split Squat Jump)
4) Bulgarian Split Squat (right leg)
5) Plank(30-60 seconds)
I would recommend you warm-up for 5-minutes doing some jumping jacks or running in place before performing two or three circuits of the exercises listed above. You never want to lift or sprint with a cold muscle.
Last but not least, you could perform a Kettlebell circuit. Obviously, you’ll need to purchase a kettlebell if you don’t already have one. The general recommendation is a 15-pound kettlebell for women, and a 30-pound kettlebell for men.
Here are two circuits that take approximately 5-minutes to complete. They each consist of 7-exercises. Perform 30-seconds of exercise followed by a 10-second rest interval before beginning the next exercise. Feel free to increase the rest interval to 15 seconds if you feel the need. If you like to follow along to a video, here is the kettlebell workout video that is the basis of these circuits.
|Elbow to Hand Plank
Side to Side Planks
I have offered these workouts to provide you with a few options. Don’t get too concerned with optimal, be more concerned with finding an activity you will truly enjoy. I want you to enjoy your workouts, so you can enjoy the benefits that working out has to offer: increased cognitive and physical performance, increased vitality, increased focus, improved impulse control, improved mood, improved happiness, and improved physical appearance.
Until next week, good luck, best wishes and best health!
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 Anita E. Autry and Lisa M. Monteggia, Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor and Neuropsychiatric Disorders, Pharmacol Rev. 2012 Apr; 64(2): 238–258.
 Bernward Winter, Caterina Breitenstein, Frank C. Mooren, Klaus Voelker, Manfred Fobker, Anja Lechtermann , Karsten Krueger, Albert Fromme, Catharina Korsukewitz, Agnes Floel, and Stefan Knecht, High impact running improves learning, Neurobiology of Learning and Memory 87 (2007) 597–609.
 Susan S. Lang, Dopamine linked to a personality trait and happiness, Cornell Chronicle, October 24, 1996.
 Oaten M, and Cheng K, “Longitudinal gains in self-regulation from regular physical exercise,” Br J Health Psychol. 2006 Nov; 11 (Pt 4):717-33.