Both mornings and evenings can be terrible times to fit in a workout, but something as simple as a time-of-day change helped me get back into the gym.
Credit: JGI/Jamie Grill

Like many people, my commitment to fitness waxes and wanes. Some months (and years) I'm better than others, and I have the wild variation in pant sizes in my closet to prove it.

I know when I'm working out how much better it makes life, though. I love the feeling of a runner’s high—the anxiety-reducing calm that comes from physical exercise. And having a metabolism cranked to 10 is not something anyone could hate. I also especially cherish the feeling of being my most fit version of myself, everything just feels better—and let’s face it, when the zombie apocalypse comes, being able to outrun them will be key.

But about eight months ago, life started to get in the way of my #fitnessgoals. A long-distance move, a new job, and a tricky living situation derailed everything. Or rather, I allowed it to derail everything.

I let go, bit-by-bit, the need to go for a run, or a row, or even a yoga class.

Every night for months, I set my alarm to 5 a.m., convinced that tomorrow would be the day I would get up and go back to the gym. And every morning for months, I turned over, hit my alarm(s), and went back to sleep.

I packed a gym bag when I got up, planning, of course, to go after work—only to bring it right back into the house that night. Something needed to change.

Then the other day my editor asked if I'd be willing to try doing a couple weeks of lunchtime workouts. (If you read us regularly, you know we’ve tried a variety of workouts, portion control hacks, and even diet experiments for stories.) So, I said sure! I figured, glumly, that it couldn’t really make that much of a difference.

I Was Wrong

So. Wrong. After just two weeks, I not only broke out of my anti-gym rut, I remembered why I liked going in the first place. And there are a lot of ancillary benefits besides just burning calories. Here’s a breakdown of the daily advantages as I see them, from morning to night.

Better Sleep
The first benefit I noticed as soon as I woke up: I slept better. By freeing myself of the idea that I needed to wake up super-early, I set a reasonable alarm time. And because I stopped hitting snooze over and over again I actually (paradoxically) ended up getting up earlier than normal. Which allowed me time to make myself that all-important healthy breakfast.

A Better Breakfast
Having a good, cooked breakfast made my mornings (usually spent hungrily thinking about lunch) more productive.

An Empty Gym
There’s freakin’ no one at the gym in the middle of the day! No one to see me huff and puff and generally be out of shape. And my gym offers classes at noon, so suddenly doing something out of my comfort zone—like Zumba—became an option. (Though I haven’t tried it yet. Still working up the courage.)

An Actual Lunch Break
Like many people, I tend to eat lunch at my desk while continuing to work. Well, we’ve recently learned that you really should take a lunch break, so spending that time at the gym seemed like a reasonable idea—and it was!

Sure, I was still eating lunch at my desk, but, not wanting to take too much time away from the office, I was bringing my own food, instead of grabbing a sandwich at a restaurant. I also came back to work with more energy than a coffee could possibly have given me, and the day seemed shorter, somehow. You know that clarity that you get after a workout and a shower? Imagine that in the middle of the day! It’s pretty great.

No Slump
That dreaded mid-afternoon slump (you know what I’m talking about) never came. Usually, there are at least 5 minutes in the afternoon where it seems like I’m walking through a fog, and I could just fall asleep sitting up, but not anymore.

A Guilt-Free Afternoon
Typically, I’d find the end of the workday a drag—I’d be dreading my inevitable decision to go ahead and skip the gym, since by skipping the gym, that would leave me fresh for the morning. Well, we all know how that goes. So… instead of hemming and hawing and feeling bad about myself, I would go to Trader Joe’s, stock up on healthy staples, and make myself dinner—something that I found easy to do for the entire two weeks of the experiment.

A Restful Evening
Normally around 9 p.m., the panic would start—I’d be furiously calculating how I many hours of sleep I'd get if my alarm was set early enough to go work out. But since I wasn’t trying to game my sleepy tomorrow-self into waking up early, I didn’t panic. Instead, acknowledging that my body was tired, I would climb into bed and read until I fell asleep. And, being as I had actually exercised, my sleep was better.

Of course there are larger benefits than just these day-to-day examples. The first became apparent on Saturday, which I had planned to take off from the gym, but I felt like going—so I went. Same on Sunday. It turned out that once I got back into the gym, I felt less embarrassed, and so even though yes, I saw people I knew over the weekend workouts, I didn’t mind so much. No more cringing drive-bys, trying to pretend like the gym wasn’t there.

Yes, I’m super-lucky: My boss doesn’t mind if I slip out for a quick gym visit. But in many ways, the culture of this office is like a lot of others—people eat at their desks during lunch. There certainly aren't crowds heading off to the gym, or out for a run.

In fact, I didn't feel like it was really possible for me to take lunches to exercise and still get all my work done, until I started doing it. So yes, maybe I end up staying a little later some days to get everything done, but I’m also finding that I can work smarter than I did before—and all of the benefits make this whole endeavor more than worth it. In fact, even though the experiment is over, I’m going to keep doing my lunchtime gym visits; it adds a pleasant shape to my days.

So even if you aren't sure whether you can do it too, it's certainly worth giving it a shot. But it’s even more worth considering how something super-simple—like changing the time of day you work out—can shake up your routine in a really positive way.