Diet and Exercise for Seasonal Depression

Short, grey days and cold weather are generally enough to drive even the most optimistic of us into a bit of a funk. But if you’re an avid exerciser who can’t get in your regular workout because of bad weather, the stress and rush of the holiday season can really throw you off your game. These frustrating bouts of sadness and moodiness are known, informally, as “the winter blues.”

But for about six percent of Americans, these mood shifts can be much more serious, and account for a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Unlike the winter blues, SAD can occur during any season, and include much more severe symptoms, including suicidal thoughts. Since SAD can be related to hormone imbalances and may require prescription medication, it’s important to work with your doctor if you’re experiencing severe depression.

The good news: for both SAD and the milder winter blues, there is strong evidence that simple changes in diet and regular exercise can help you endure these seasonal mood swings until the sun shines again.

Work It Out

Especially during the colder months, exercising can be difficult if your energy levels are low to begin with and the weather makes it difficult to get outside. Focusing on the benefits you can expect to reap from exercise, though, will encourage you to get yourself up and moving.

The American Council on Exercise recommends remembering your past successes and setting clear goals to keep you moving. Joining a class or finding a workout buddy will help you stay focused.

Thinking in terms of “activity” rather than exercise may also help. Look for opportunities to inject some added activity into your day: take the stairs, skip the shortcuts and turn some of your household chores into workouts. Don’t underestimate how many calories you can burn working around the house. For example, an hour of pushing a vacuum around can burn 238 calories in a 150-pound person.

Simply taking brisk walks outdoors can go a long way toward improving your mood. The sunlight is directly responsible for production of serotonin and melatonin, two mood-regulating hormones. Any exercise will increase the release of several endorphins which can help improve your mood, help you sleep and regulate your appetite.

Specifically, cardiovascular exercise and mindful exercises like yoga and Pilates can be especially useful. Because these workout modes help you focus on your breathing and heart rate, they help to modify your stress response, and consequently fight depression. Look through the top rated elliptical machines to find one that will complement your home gym and help you keep up your cardio routine, regardless of the weather.

Eat Right

Depression can increase your cravings for simple carbohydrates, which absorb quickly into your body but also cause a crash in blood sugar. And since fatty, starchy treats are easy to come by during the holiday season, it’s important to pay particular attention to how you’re eating in order to avoid SAD symptoms.

Stock up on complex carbs, which can give you the same serotonin boost as their simpler cousins, but keep your blood sugar steady and balanced. This would include foods that contain whole-wheats and oats, like whole grain breads, bran muffins, brown rice and oatmeal.

Since seasonal depression, in most cases, is related to reduced exposure to sunlight, researchers have examined the impact of vitamin D, which is produced by sunlight, on depression. The research is still inconclusive but promising enough to spur more studies. While fortified foods, like milk and cereal, have vitamin D added, very few foods contain it naturally.

Two foods that do provide vitamin D are salmon and tuna. These fatty fish are also rich in omega-3s, which have shown potential in several studies for improving mood and brain function. If you don’t enjoy fish and choose to supplement, though, try to select a supplement that is particularly high in eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), since this variety of omega-3 is thought to be the most effective.

These small changes in your activity and diet could help you improve your mood and get you through your bout with seasonal depression. However, always consult a doctor if you are battling depression.

Have you experienced the benefits of proper diet and increased activity on depression? Please share your experience with us in the comments.


Working Out During Cold & Flu Season

I’ve only recently realized that there’s more than cold weather and busy schedules working against my exercise regime during this time of year. It’s also the cold and flu season.

Although many hardcore exercise enthusiasts will simply work through their illness, is this always the best decision? When is it safe to work out and when should you take some time off? Also, are there any ways you should modify your workouts to encourage a speedy recovery?

When to Continue

According to Dr. Edward R. Laskowski, of the Mayo Clinic, a general rule of thumb is that moderate exercise is usually safe as long as your symptoms are “above the neck.” This include symptoms that accompany the common cold, such as a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing or minor sore throat. These things don’t have to derail your exercise routine, provided you feel OK energy-wise.

In fact, a series of studies conducted at Ball State University showed that not only will a minor cold not impair your performance, but moderate exercise might actually help you recover more quickly.

Regular exercise, accompanied by a good night’s sleep, can be a powerful boost to your immune system. Not only does the act of exercising itself help white blood cells, which fight disease, travel more quickly through your body, but it also affects the hormones that control your sleep cycles. So exercise indirectly helps you sleep more deeply, allowing your immune system to repair itself more effectively.

When to Take a Break

Conversely, “below the neck symptoms” like chest congestion, a hacking cough or digestive problems shouldn’t be ignored. A fever is another symptom you shouldn’t try to exercise through. Listen to your body and give it a rest.

If you’re experiencing muscles soreness or fatigue, take the day off as well, since exercising will only worsen your symptoms. If you have any doubts, discuss your symptoms and your routine with your doctor.

Getting Back in the Game

Just because your fever has passed and you only have a slight sniffle, it doesn’t mean you should launch back into your normal routine immediately. When you’re still dealing with the minor “above the head” symptoms, keep your exercise to a moderate level even if that means lowering your regular intensity. If you normally run, you may need to jog or even walk until you are completely recovered.

You may also need to cut back on the length of your workouts. Doctor Howard LeWine, of Harvard Health Publications, warns that viral infections like the flu can weaken the heart, leaving it susceptible to damage by strenuous exercise. Stop if you feel exhausted or have difficulty breathing. Be especially careful if you start to develop tightness and coughing in your chest.

Have you struggled to maintain your workout schedule despite a cold or flu? Please share your experience with us in the comments.


Outdoor Exercise as the Seasons Change

Alpine downhill skiing on sunny dayRunners and cyclists always have the option to take the easy way out when winter months make regular routes cold and wet. That’s one of the ways health clubs stay in business. But if you still appreciate the flexibility and experience of exercising outdoors, changing weather doesn’t have to be an obstacle. Just keep in mind these dos and don’ts to maximize effectiveness and minimize injuries.

1. Do schedule your workouts earlier in the day if possible. Shorter days and the holiday craziness at the beginning of the season can get you in the habit of skipping sessions. That’s a hard habit to break after the new year.

2. Don’t skimp on your wardrobe. Instead, buy the exercise wear you need to maintain a safe temperature throughout your workout. This usually means wearing layers in winter, so you can strip some off as you warm up.

3. Do contact a training partner if you don’t already have one. Low temperatures and rainy days can be a real motivation drainer. Having a buddy will help you get out there when your warm, comfy couch is calling too loudly. This is especially important if you’re one of the 1.5 million Americans who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder. This technique also helps you stay safe from crime, and gives you a partner to assist you if you fall and become injured.

4. Don’t jump unprepared into winter sports like skiing and snowboarding. One reason these sports have high rates of injury is that people attempt them without proper physical training. A broken ankle from a bad day on the slopes will derail your winter exercise plan completely. If you want to take up a winter sport, spring for a training program to build the skills and conditioning you’ll need to do it safety. Most local clubs and facilities will offer one.

5. Do buy a headlamp and reflective vest. With fewer hours of daylight, you’ll find yourself on the road before dawn, at dusk and perhaps at night more often. Even if you set out before the streetlights go on, wear your safety gear in case your route takes longer than you anticipate.

6. Don’t forget to stay hydrated. Thirst isn’t as oppressive in colder weather, and your layered clothes make it harder to realize how much you’re sweating — but that doesn’t mean you’re not losing water at a potentially dangerous rate.

7. Do stay alert for slippery terrain. Ice and snow can make for treacherous conditions, and often collect on the roadsides and trails outdoor exercisers use. The last thing you want is a ski-slope injury you sustained in your own neighborhood. If you live in an area that regularly gets snow and ice, you can buy shoe traction devices that act like snow chains for your feet.

8. Don’t forget to protect your hands and face. The Mayo Clinic warns that these body parts are particularly susceptible to frostbite, especially when you factor in the wind chill you generate while moving at a cardio pace. Wear gloves and a balaklava as the temperature begins to demand them.

9. Do be alert for signs of hypothermia. This may seem counter-intuitive as your body warms up with exercise, but it’s more common than you might expect. Protect yourself by scheduling breaks in areas with heat, and by keeping your sessions short enough to get in before the cold starts really taking effect. If you’re going long, consider running laps on a shorter course so you can get inside easily, or at least packing a fresh, dry shirt.

Time-Crunched Treadmill Workouts

Ask Coach Jenny

 Q: I struggle this time of year to get in my workouts and I’m limited to the treadmill. Do you have any suggested workouts for the time-crunched runner?  ~Jessica

A: Hi, Jessica. You’re not alone. In fact, this time of year is when activity falls by the wayside in lieu of parties, shopping and busy schedules. The good news is you’re right on target in terms of how to stay on track this holiday season. It is better to get in short, frequent workouts than cancel because you can’t get in your normal 45 minutes. The key is to maintain momentum and make the most of the time you have.

Before we discuss the workouts, here are a few key rules to know before you go.

Always invest the allotted time to warm up by walking. You’ll start with a brisk walk, transition to a power walk, then run to fully prepare your body for the high-intensity workout ahead. This will make for a more pleasurable and optimal workout experience.

  • Post workout, cool down and let your heart rate and circulation return to their resting rate. In most cases, two to three minutes of easy-effort walking will do the trick.
  • Listen to your body. Avoid the trap of running by pace, and go by how your body is feeling instead. Some days this will be faster, and some days slower – but when you run by your body on a given day, you’ll gain the most for your effort.
  • If you’re new to high-intensity workouts, start with one of these workouts per week and see how your body responds. You can fill in the gaps with short, easy- effort runs in the meantime. This will help you maintain your momentum, recover optimally and progress to running more frequent high-intensity workouts per week.
  • Note to newbie exercisers: If you are new to the active life, make sure to develop a solid base of regular walking or running at least three times per week for 30-60 minutes each before weaving these workouts into your schedule. You’ll progress faster with a lower risk of injury and burnout.

Here are three, 30-minute workouts that are fun, functional and will keep you fit through the crazy-busy holiday season.

The Music Mix Mash-Up

Move to the rhythm of your own beat.

  • Create a music mix by alternating a slow-to-moderately paced song, like “Just the Way You Are” by Bruno Mars, with a fast-paced song, like “Beautiful Day” by U2.
  • Warm up by walking for 3 minutes at a brisk effort level.
  • For 25 minutes, alternate slow and fast songs, matching your effort level to each.
  • Run at an easy pace to slow music. After the warm up, run for the duration of the first song (slow-to-moderate) at a comfortable effort level where you can talk while you’re moving.
  • Run hard to fast music. Pick up the pace to a comfortably hard level where you can hear your breathing and you’re just outside your comfort zone for the entire duration of the fast-paced song.
  • Continue to alternate easy and hard efforts with the alternating songs on your custom playlist.
  • Cool down by walking 2 minutes at an easy effort.
  • Soon you’ll find that the time flies by quickly when you’re jamming to your favorite tunes!

The Mountain Climber

Moving up and down hills strengthens your legs and your stamina.

Changing the incline on the treadmill is just like strength training for your legs. The added resistance is a great way to increase the intensity, burn a ton of calories and utilize a variety of muscles. (Cut and paste this workout and tape it to the treadmill).

Warm up

  • Walk at a brisk pace for 3 minutes at 0% incline.
  • Start running at 0% incline for 5 minutes at an easy effort level (conversational pace).

Set 1

  • Keeping the speed the same, increase the incline to 1% and run for 1 minute.
  • Decrease incline to 0% for 2 minutes to catch your breath.

Set 2

  • Increase the incline to 2% and run for 1 minute.
  • Decrease to 1% for 1 minute.
  • Decrease to 0% for 2 minutes to catch your breath.

Set 3

  • Increase the incline to 3% for 1 minute.
  • Decrease to 2% for 1 minute.
  • Decrease the incline to 1% for 1 minute.
  • Recover with 2 minutes at 0%.

Set 4

  • Increase the incline to 4% for 1 minute.
  • Decrease progressively, 3% for 1 minute, 2% for 1 minute and finally 1% for 1 minute.
  • Recover with 2 minutes at 0%.

Cool Down

  • Finish running at 0% incline for 2 minutes at an easy effort level (conversational pace).
  • Finish your cool down walking 2 minutes at an easy effort.

The Pyramid

Time flies when you move at the speed of light. Alternating the speed of your workout with fast and slow intervals boosts cardiovascular fitness and running form.

Warm up

Walk 3 minutes at a brisk effort level.


Run 8 minutes at an easy effort level (conversational). Then alternate the following:

  • 30 seconds at a comfortably hard intensity, 1 minute at an easy effort to catch your breath
  • 30 seconds at a comfortably hard intensity, 1 minute at an easy effort to catch your breath
  • 60 seconds at a comfortably hard intensity, 2 minutes at an easy effort to catch your breath
  • 90 seconds at a comfortably hard intensity, 3 minutes at an easy effort to catch your breath
  • 60 seconds at a comfortably hard intensity, 2 minutes at an easy effort to catch your breath
  • 30 seconds at a comfortably hard intensity, 1 minute at an easy effort to catch your breath
  • 30 seconds at a comfortably hard intensity, 1 minute at an easy effort to catch your breath

Cool down

Finish with 2 minutes of easy-paced walking or running and cool down.

Do you have a question for Coach Jenny? Submit your question here.

5 Ways to Fit in Fitness During the Holidays

The holiday season means plenty of shopping, cooking, eating, drinking and … exercise.


If you’re like most people, maybe not so much. Hectic schedules — coupled with colder temperatures and fewer daylight hours — prompt many people to throw their fitness routine to the curb until after the New Year.

But you don’t have to let yourself go during the holidays. Taking care of yourself, with exercise, a healthy diet and plenty of sleep, is key for good health. Regular exercise can also increase your energy levels and ease holiday stress. Not to mention being active can help keep the eggnog and stuffing from lingering on your hips. The average person gains about one pound during the holiday season, but exercise can help you ward off this weight gain.Ice Skates

Here are five tips to help you keep your exercise regime in the middle of the holiday crunch:

1. Set realistic goals. If you usually run five days per week, shoot for three or four days each week during this busy time of year. If you normally spend an hour on the elliptical, just aim for 20 to 30 minutes. Likewise, save big goals — like losing 10 lbs or training for a marathon — until a time when you have fewer obligations. Strive to maintain your weight and fitness level during the holidays and rev it up again come January.

2. Plan ahead. Map out the day and set aside time for fitness. We tend to find time for our biggest priorities, so carve out some time in your day to be active. Take a walk on your lunch break, do a workout DVD instead of lounging in front of the TV or wake up 15 minutes earlier and start your day with a short yoga sequence.

3. Multitask. Skip the gym and get in a workout while crossing off items on your holiday to-do list. Power-walk while you shop, do lunges, push-ups and sit-ups while you wait for your pumpkin pie to bake and dance while you tidy the house. Remember that some exercise is always better than none.

4. Be flexible. Planned on going to the gym but mall traffic tied you up? Sometimes even the best of intentions get thwarted. Try to find time for a shortened exercise session later in the day. But don’t sweat it if you end up skipping a workout or two. Experts say we can usually afford to cut back on exercise for a few weeks without sacrificing fitness.

5. Create new traditions. The holidays are a joyful time to catch up and celebrate with loved ones.The laughter and reminiscing doesn’t have to take place around the dinner table, though. Now is the perfect time to create new, active traditions with your family. Gather the troops and play an annual Thanksgiving game of tough football, ask your friends to join you for a local “jingle jog” 5k race and take the kids ice skating on New Year’s Eve.

How do you motivate yourself to stay active over the holidays? I always remind myself that I’ll never regret doing a workout, but I’ll almost always regret skipping it.


How to Train for Your First Marathon

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: How do I start training for a marathon if I’ve never done running before? – Jordana

A: Hi Jordana (pretty name btw). There are a lot of ways to train up for a marathon, but most only focus on the physical aspects. When going from the couch to the marathon, your body and mind need time to adapt to the demands along the way. For this reason, I recommend to go the route of slow progression to the marathon distance.

The best way to eat the elephant is one bite at a time. It is quite overwhelming to get up off the couch and think, “Okay, today is the first day of my marathon training.” It’s such a huge goal – it can overwhelm rather than inspire, not to mention it can quickly lead to burn out from jumping into too much too soon.

Rather than thinking marathon, think 5K. Find a run-walk program that guides you to get up and running a 5K in the next three months. I have a few free plans here [link:] that can get you started (Zero to Running is a solid strategy to get going). This is the time to be more conservative as your body will make the most gains early in your running program.

As you complete the program, graduate to a 10K and focus on training for the next two months to build to that distance. Again, the more gradual your climb in distance early on, the less risk you’ll experience burn out and injury. Plus, with time, your mental strength develops right along side your body and detours the negative emotions that can sneak up and bite you when you jump into too much distance. Every race becomes a mini goal and gives you a sense of accomplishment on your journey to the marathon.

After you cross the line of your 10K, set your sites on training up for a half marathon. With your 10K base of training investing a solid 12-14 weeks will give you enough time to adapt, run longer and stronger. Upon finishing the half, you’ve earned your wings to train up for the marathon. At this point, if all feels well, you can continue your training from the half marathon right up to the full distance in 10-12 weeks. This gives you time to recover post half, build your distance to the mileage necessary to run the marathon distance and include a taper as well.

Other ingredients that will help in your new running journey include flexibility (foam rolling, massage and stretching), strength training and cross-training with lower impact activities (i.e. Zumba, cycling, swimming or elliptical).

Finally, be mindful of your body along the way and stay in tune with aches and pains. It’s your body’s way of communicating with you that you’re likely resting too little or pushing too hard. In most cases, a day or two of easy cross-training or rest will do the trick and heal the minor little aches.

Your goal to run a marathon is quite ambitious, so just make sure to give yourself time to complete your goal in stages. Good luck on your marathon quest.  One race at a time!

Do you have a question for Coach Jenny? Submit your question here.

Posted by Coach Jenny Hadfield | Posted in Fitness

What You Should Know About Creatine

Creatine is one of the most widely used and well-researched supplements on the market. In fact, the creatine market in the United States alone is estimated at $14 million per year and over 50 percent of professional football players report using the supplement.

Readily available in pills, powders and sports drinks, many athletes and fitness enthusiasts try creatine at some point, so it’s worth knowing all you can about the supplement.

As always, before taking any exercise supplement, discuss it with your doctor to be sure that it will not have any negative interaction with your medications or preexisting conditions.

What It Is and What It Does

Creatine is an amino acid that is naturally created by your body. It is also available in fish and red meat. Creatine is converted to creatine phosphate and stored in the muscles, which allows your body to use it immediately.

To understand why it’s so important to have creatine phosphate readily on hand, we have to understand how muscle contractions are powered. The primary fuel for all muscle movements is adenosine-triphosphate (ATP). The problem is that our muscles can only store enough ATP for short bursts of activity and it takes a relatively long time to synthesize. To compensate for this and speed up the process, a common compound, adenosine-diphosphate (ADP) steals a phosphate molecule from the creatine phosphate. This creates more ATP for immediate use.

Because creatine supplementation gives you excess reserves of this backup fuel, it primes your body for high-intensity, short-duration exercise like sprinting or weight lifting. Since you have extra fuel available, you should be able to do more reps and run longer, subsequently getting a more effective workout.

The research on creatine is mixed, although the majority of studies show that creatine can help to improve explosive speed, strength and lean muscle mass. Creatine doesn’t appear to be useful in long-distance endurance training, however.


According to the Mayo Clinic, many frequent users of creatine supplements ignore and exceed the recommended dosages. This is likely because serious fitness enthusiasts are either taking bad advice, or they figure they can’t get too much of a good thing.

The general recommended dose is 20 grams of creatine per day, divided into four doses of five grams each. The duration of the supplementation will depend on your goals and there are plenty of conflicting opinions out there. The Mayo Clinic recommends taking creatine for 4-7 days for enhanced athletic strength and performance. Smaller maintenance doses of five grams per daycan be taken after that.

Although traditional gym wisdom supports cycling on and off creatine, this assertion has come under fire. There is no evidence to support that cycling improves the efficacy of the supplementation or that it will prevent side effects as long as you follow the recommended dosages. Despite this evidence, many people still cycle creatine.

Considerations and Potential Side Effects

Some people seem to have no response to creatine. Recent research suggests that these people may simply have a naturally elevated creatine reserve already.

Allergies to creatine are possible and will cause a rash, itching and/or shortness of breath.

Gastrointestinal discomfort as well as bloating from water weight are both common side effects of creatine supplementation. You may also experience muscle sprains or cramps that could lead to more serious injuries.

Although creatine was linked with kidney damage in the past, this connection has been weakened by modern research but not severed. Both kidney and liver functions may be altered, so users with preexisting conditions in these particular organs should talk to their doctor first.

Creatine has the potential to alter insulin activity, but more research is necessary. If you have diabetes or hypoglycemia or are undergoing any treatments that could affect your blood sugar, you should use caution taking creatine.

Have you taken creatine supplements? Share your experience with us in the comments.



Postpartum Fitness: How to Get Back in Shape After Having a Baby

After giving birth last fall, one of the first questions I had for my midwife was, “When can I exercise again?” I ran until I was 7 months pregnant, when I had to hang up my running shoes due to health concerns. So I couldn’t wait to get moving again. (Information on keeping a safe running routine throughout pregnancy can be found here.)

But starting a fitness plan postpartum requires that you take special care. Whether you’re an athlete eager to get back into your favorite sport or you’re looking for a way to shed the pregnancy pounds, you can safely get in shape after having a baby.

Getting Started

Being active boasts a bunch of health benefits for new moms. Exercise can boost your energy, reduce postpartum fatigue, fight stress, improve your mood, strengthen your muscles and help you lose weight. Plus, you’ll be setting up lifelong healthy habits and be a good role model for your child.

Before you head to the gym, though, you’ll need to get the OK from your doctor or midwife. Delivering a baby takes a toll on your body, and it can take weeks to recover (or even months if you delivered by cesarean section or had a difficult childbirth). Rest is usually best in the first few weeks after having a baby.

Experts say that most postpartum women can do some light walking as soon as they feel up to it. In general, women who delivered vaginally can start more vigorous exercise at 6 weeks postpartum, and women who delivered by C-section can engage in more intense activity 6 to 8 weeks after childbirth. But know that every woman is different and recovery times vary. Always ask your doctor how long you should wait after the birth of your baby before resuming or starting an exercise program.

Sticking With It

Still, even if you have clearance from your doctor, wait until your body feels ready before you move from walking to more intense activities. Once you feel ready to exercise, follow these tips for success:

·         Ease into it. Doing too much before your body is healed can be a recipe for disaster. You risk injury if you jump into intense exercise too soon. Take it slow and, in time, you’ll be able to gradually increase the duration and intensity of your workout sessions.

·         Have realistic expectations. You just had a baby! You are likely sleep deprived and stressed. If you don’t have the stamina for your planned workout one day, don’t sweat it. Just take a walk instead. Remember that even a little bit of exercise is better than none. Pop baby into a jogging stroller and get going! (with luck he’ll even finally fall asleep!)

·         Stay well hydrated. Be mindful to drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise. This is especially crucial for breast-feeding women because you lose fluids during nursing sessions. Drinking enough water throughout the day can help you feel more energized and combat fatigue.

·         Plan ahead if you’re breast-feeding. In the first few months postpartum, you may feel more comfortable if you exercise immediately after nursing your baby. Note that working out will not negatively impact your milk supply.

·         Watch for warning signs. If you have bright red vaginal bleeding that’s heavier than a period, stop exercising at once and get medical help.

New moms: how do you make time for fitness? I like to multi-task; I used to lift weights and do jumping jacks while my son played on his activity mat.


The Many Benefits of a Morning Workout

Not many of us wake up, hop out of bed with full energy and can zealously tackle our workout first thing in the morning. The natural inclination is often to put if off, generally until the end of the day, when all the other important things like work and school have been accomplished.

But is this wise? What are the benefits of a morning workout, before you go about the rest of your daily activities?

Start The Day Off Right

In a recent post, we discussed the fact that a balanced breakfast can help to set a healthy tone for the rest of your day. Morning exercise seems to have a similar effect, for several reasons.

First, numerous studies have shown that exercise can improve your sense of well-being and overall mood. For longtime exercisers, this won’t come as a surprise but it has important implications. If you exercise first thing in the morning, elevating your mood, you are more likely to eat healthier foods and enjoy your day more.

Additionally, once you experience these benefits, you’ll want to continue exercising so that you can keep enjoying them. Speaking to U.S. News, Julia Valentour, program coordinator for the American Council on Exercise, said that “People who exercise in the morning are more likely to make it a habit, as there’s less chance of scheduling conflicts that get in the way of exercise.”

Razor Focus!

Closely related to the improved sense of well-being is a heightened alertness throughout the day. Although you have to drag yourself out of bed and struggle to start your workout, once you do you’ll wake up quickly. Not only will you be able to give your workout your full attention but, by the time you get to work, you’ll already feel awake and accomplished.

A key factor to consider when discussing how to set a good tone for your day is the effect that exercise has on your metabolism. Recent research has shown that not only do our bodies burn calories during exercise, but that increased caloric burn continues for hours after. One study found that men who biked at a high intensity for 45 minutes burned an extra 190 calories over the 14 hours following the workout. Other studies have backed these findings but, they all note, that low or moderate intensity workouts don’t show the same substantial results.

Sleep Better

It may seem counter-intuitive, but waking up early to work out may help you sleep better. A quality night’s sleep is dependent, to a large extent, on regularity. We need to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. Scheduling your workout in the mornings can be a valuable step toward creating a regular sleep pattern.

Research also indicates that people who exercise at night or in the evenings have more difficulty falling asleep than those who work out earlier in the day. Not only will the improved sleep help you be more focussed and energetic, but sleep plays an important part in weight loss. Several hormones that control your appetite and metabolism are regulated by your sleep patterns so creating a healthy sleep schedule can have a positive effect on those systems as well.

Avoid Conflicts

How often does your day go exactly as you had planned? Things pop up unexpectedly that force use to make last minute changes. We may have to work late, deal with some emergency or handle an errand we forgot about, and any of these things can suck up the time you’d planned for your workout. By taking care of your exercise as soon as you wake up, you lessen the chance of something else getting in the way.

What benefits have you experienced from working out in the morning? Please share them with us in the comments.


What is the Best Way to Recover After a Race?

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: How do I recover after short and long races – 5K to marathon?  ~Jeff

A: Great question, Jeff! The short, sweet, tweet-sized answer is – invest one day for every mile in the race. Although this is very general, it can work in keeping things simple. So, the shorter the race, the shorter the recovery necessary and vice versa.  This is why you can race multiple 5Ks in a season with less risk than racing multiple half or full marathons in a season.

The longer answer is it truly depends on a host of variables including: your running experience, your training season, your health, stress, nutrition, race intensity, the elements, age and more! I know that’s a mouthful and quite a lot to think about, but ultimately it comes down to creating your personal recovery program and understanding that every post-race recovery is unique. That way, you tune into what works for you, learn to optimize your down time and ebb and flow with all types of recoveries.

Contrary to popular belief, post-race recovery doesn’t mean sitting on the couch watching your favorite reality TV show. It simply means getting off the structure of a training program for awhile to let things heal and rejuvenate – much like the winter season or a good night’s sleep. Our body functions in cycles and when you begin to train and race in cycles, you make the most of every season. The fun part is it allows time to explore activities you may have ignored due to training. There are a myriad of options for active recovery and here are just a few ways you could go for each race distance.

5K – 10K:  

In-Season, Post-Race Recovery:

Day 1 – Rest, massage or very light, low-impact activity for 20-30 minutes (cycling, elliptical)

Day 2 – Cross-training with lower-impact activities for 30-45 minutes at an easy effort level, plus flexibility exercises (foam rolling, stretching)

Day 3 – Easy effort run for 30-45 minutes, plus flexibility exercises

Day 4 – Cross-training for 30-45 minutes at an easy to moderate effort level

Day 5 – Easy effort run for 30-45 minutes, plus flexibility exercises

Day 6 – Rest

Day 7 – Continue on with your 5K training regimen, adding higher intensity and longer duration runs back into your regimen if all feels well. If you have any aches or pains, invest a few more days of easy effort runs and cross-training to assure recovery.

Post-Season Recovery:

Weeks 1-2:

Include easy to moderate effort cross-training, easy effort runs that are shorter and flexibility exercises, keeping the workout duration to no more than an hour. Reward yourself with a massage!

Example Week

Monday – Easy effort run for 30 minutes, plus a strength workout

Tuesday – Cross-training for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Wednesday – Play – an activity you love to do (hike, bike, play with the kids, dance)

Thursday – Easy effort run for 30 minutes, plus strength workout

Friday – Cross-training for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Saturday – Easy effort run – 60 minutes on a new trail, route or path

Sunday – Rest

Weeks 3-4:

Include moderate effort cross-training, easy effort runs that are shorter, a harder effort short run and flexibility exercises, still keeping the workout duration to no more than an hour.

Example Week

Monday – Easy effort run for 30-40 minutes, plus strength workout

Tuesday – Cross-training 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Wednesday – Play – an activity you love to do (hike, bike, play with the kids, dance)

Thursday – Easy effort run for 30 minutes, plus strength workout

Friday – Cross-training for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Saturday – Alternate one week with a longer, slower run (45-60 minutes) with a shorter, harder effort run (30-40 minutes – Fartlek, which is a form of road running in which the runner varies the pace significantly during the run)

Sunday – Rest

Half Marathon Marathon:

Longer races require long training seasons and more effort and stress on race day. Therefore, at least 3-4 weeks of low-key, unstructured activity is a great way to fully recovery mentally, physically and emotionally. Here is an example of what that might look like for a runner that normally trains four times per week, plus cross-training.

Week 1 – Keep the effort easy and activity short:

Monday – Rest, massage and very light flexibility exercises

Tuesday – Cross-training for 20-30 minutes at an easy effort, plus flexibility

Wednesday – Rest

Thursday – Cross-training for 30 minutes at an easy effort, plus flexibility

Friday – Rest day or light walk for 30 minutes

Saturday – Easy effort run for 30-40 minutes, plus flexibility

Sunday – Rest or light walk for 30-45 minutes

 Week 2 – Keep the effort easy, and build the activity time slightly:

Monday – Cross-training for 30-40 minutes at an easy effort, plus strength

Tuesday – Easy effort run for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Wednesday – Cross-training for 30-40 minutes at an easy effort, plus strength

Thursday – Easy effort run for 40 minutes, plus flexibility

Friday – Cross-training for 30-40 minutes at an easy effort, plus strength

Saturday – Easy effort longer run for 60 minutes, plus flexibility

Sunday – Rest

 Week 3:

Monday – Easy effort run for 45 minutes, plus flexibility

Tuesday – Cross-training at moderate to hard intensity for 45-60 minutes, plus strength

Wednesday – Rest

Thursday – Easy effort run for 45 minutes, plus flexibility

Friday – Cross-training at moderate to hard intensity for 45-60 minutes, plus strength

Saturday – Easy effort longer run for 60-70 minutes, plus flexibility

Sunday – Rest

 Week 4:

Monday – Easy effort run for 45 minutes, plus flexibility

Tuesday – Cross-training at moderate to hard intensity for 45-60 minutes, plus strength

Wednesday – Moderate effort run for 45 minutes, plus flexibility

Thursday – Cross-training at moderate to hard intensity for 45-60 minutes, plus strength

Friday – Easy effort run for 40 minutes or cross-training

Saturday – Easy effort longer run for 70-80 minutes (or hold at 60 minutes if that’s more comfortable), plus flexibility

Sunday – Rest