You wake up with an hour until go-time; your email already swooshing into action and the sound of a boiling kettle already whistling in your ears: whatever your routine, the morning, in our hectic world, can feel overwhelmingly full.

And if you’re not a morning lark (someone who loves getting up with the sun), that routine may not include exercise — which, in an already crammed a.m., can feel like an extra stressor.

We know, from a plethora of research that working out is key for both our mental and physical health, with benefits ranging from mood improvement to decreased stress. But new research published in the journal Neuropsychologia helps explain why it’s so difficult to exercise despite our knowledge of the benefits: Our minds have to work extra hard to avoid sedentary activity and choose active behaviors.

This means that it’s important to find ways to fit manageable exercise into your existing routines, where it’s harder to resist your mind’s attempt to convince you that you need rest over motion. And for many of us, our routine is most deeply entrenched in the morning: the efficient, practiced motions you execute to get out the door can feel almost automatic. That’s exactly the feeling you want to attach to your exercise habit.

The solution may lie in short, efficient exercises that warm up your body and your mind without necessitating that you leave your house before your morning shower. Take your pick from the following workouts, which offer three very different vibes. Try to squeeze in 15 to 20 minutes of movement several days a week between brushing your teeth and heading out the door (the amount recommended by the Mayo Clinic and the US Government is 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, which could mean walking, or 75 minutes of higher intensity exercise — more like the choices below).

1 – Sun Salutations

My high school PE teacher told me that doing a sun salutation (or a few) every morning was the only exercise you needed. I’ve never forgotten his recommendation, because every time I’ve followed it, I’ve felt strong, limber, centered, and positive. The classic yoga pose strengthens and stretches your body at the same time, leaving you open to the day physically and emotionally, I’ve found. Science backs up the recommendation, too: A study published in the Asian Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that the sun salutation “can be an ideal exercise to keep oneself in optimum level of fitness.” It’s also a short exercise — it can be done once or even three times through in ten minutes — and accessible to exercise newbies.

2 – HIIT (high intensity interval training)

HIIT has gained popularity as a fun, often quick variety of cardio. It intersperses short, high intensity periods of exercise, and is a great exercise style if you want to scale up intensity as you gain fitness). Science backs this one up as a great option, too — a study published in Neuroscience Letters indicated that HIIT can increase production of the protein BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which is involved in mood regulation and cognitive functions like learning and memory.

Chris Jordan, the director of exercise physiology at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, explains in The New York Times that your intensity level during the exertion spurts “should hover at around an 8 on a discomfort scale of 1 to 10,” whatever your fitness level. His 7-minute workout, published in the Times along with 4- and 10-minute routines, is a perfect HIIT introduction. Adam Rosante, certified personal trainer and author of The 30-Second Body, recommends that you don’t do more than 3 or 4 days of HIIT a week, so it’s a great workout to do in combination with the one of the other two types of exercise listed here, or any other kinds of movement you love.

3 – Pilates

Pilates falls somewhere between sun salutations and HIIT: Like yoga, Pilates focuses on smaller, precise movements, but as with HIIT exercises, those movements can be rapid moving and intense. Like both yoga and HIIT, Pilates can be practiced in short bouts, making it perfect to incorporate into a morning routine. And science backs up the mood boost you’ll see: According to a recent meta-analysis published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine, researchers found Pilates improved mental health outcomes for participants in clinical trials testing the exercise. 

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  • Nora Battelle

    Multimedia Staff Writer at Thrive

    Nora Battelle is a writer from New York City. Her work has been published on the Awl, the Hairpin, and the LARB blog, and she's written for podcast and film. At Swarthmore College, she studied English and French literature and graduated with Highest Honors. She's fascinated by language, culture, the internet, and all the small choices that can help us thrive.