Some people hate early mornings. Others hate dark evenings. Either way, it’s generally agreed that during autumn and winter the pillow calls louder than press-ups. Yet since exercise releases endorphins, which make us feel good, and lack of sunlight reduces serotonin, which balances our moods, ditching training for snoozing is not always the answer.
If the darker days leave you demotivated and sluggish, try short, sharp workouts.
Committing to a 20-minute blast at home is easier than promising yourself that you will get up early for the gym, although watching the sun rise in the park could help boost mood, too, as you will absorb some natural light.
“This is really so important,” says Elise Facer-Childs, who is studying circadian rhythms in athletes at the University of Birmingham. “Natural light is the main way our body clock resets itself every day to a 24-hour cycle,” she adds.
Body weight circuits are efficient, giving you more time in bed. They also rev up the internal thermostat and jump-start the metabolism. Training first thing also allows you to be smug for the rest of the day (not to mention eat carbs for breakfast).
Keeping things simple, with exercises such as press-ups, squats, lunges and jumping-jacks, does not mean that you are cutting corners. Do 10 of each, one after the other, five to 10 times over (depending on your fitness and energy levels), increasing the intensity as you go and resting for the minimum amount of time. Not only does this hit almost all the major muscle groups, but it challenges the heart and lungs and takes 20-30 minutes.
“Skipping ’n’ abs” is also one of my favourite at-home options. Try a minute of skipping followed by 30 seconds of rest, repeated five times. Then skip for 30 seconds, and rest for 15 seconds. After that, try five 30-second planks with 30 seconds of rest in between.
If you’re feeling anxious or want to wind down at the end of the day, leave the high-intensity training, which will release adrenalin, and try yoga instead (head to yoogaia.com for online classes).
Now on to the question of when to exercise. Many people prefer to work out towards the end of the day – and if you’re looking to improve your performance, this might well be right for you. According to a recent study, athletic performance peaks in the evening when people’s core body temperature is at its highest.
And yet other research I’ve read suggests that, when it comes to training, people perform best at different times of the day. “Early” and “intermediate” athletes hit their high spots at midday and 4pm respectively (four to six hours after waking), while “late” people do so at 8pm (up to 11 hours after waking). Pay attention to when you find exercise most enjoyable and then stick to this time.
Maintaining a good sleep routine should help your mood, too. Try to avoid using your computer or your iPad immediately before bed: studies suggest that these disrupt or delay sleep.
“It’s better to maintain a consistent sleep pattern than rely on your weekends to catch up,” says Facer-Childs. “The body clock thrives on routine; if you continually change your sleep pattern that will desynchronise it.
“Sleeping an extra four hours at the weekend is the equivalent of going to Dubai every Friday and coming back on Sunday. You’re effectively ‘jet-lagging’ yourself.” Allowing yourself an extra 20 minutes in bed, however, shouldn’t do too much harm.
My advice is to congratulate yourself for every workout, forgive yourself for those you miss, and leave any more ascetic ideas until next spring.