As many of us look to renew our commitments to leading a healthy lifestyle this January, updating your morning routine may be a good place to start.
“The pandemic has brought an increase in depression and other mental health issues to many people,” says Dr. Alex Robles of WhiteCoatTrainer.com, a NASM-certified personal trainer and health and fitness expert. “While you may not be able to change your mindset overnight, creating a simple morning routine full of healthy habits can get you closer to improving your outlook on life.”
Dr. Renita White, a board-certified OB/GYN, reiterates that there are so many aspects of the pandemic that have been hard on all of us but it has also been a time when self-care and wellness have been highlighted.
“That is why I believe it is so important to start your day in a way that sets the tone for positivity and wellness,” she says. “Even the little things, like listening to music, meditating or setting your own rules before the day starts, can make all the difference for your outlook on the day.”
Below are 10 morning habits to try ASAP.
1. Write something down for which you’re grateful.
“It could be about anything. Sometimes I feel grateful for the good night’s sleep I just had, or for the book that I just read,” Robles tells Fox News. “Sometimes it’s health-related, like the fact that I get to exercise, or that I have access to healthy food.”
Other times, it can be something like nice weather, people or pets you love in your life, or a funny show you watched on TV.
“The reason I do this is that practicing gratitude has the potential to enhance your mood, promote positive feelings, and improve your sense of well-being,” he continues, adding that there have been studies showing different parts of the brain becoming active in individuals practicing gratitude.
“In addition, a randomized controlled trial found that those who listed out what they were grateful for 14 days had improved affect, subjective happiness and life satisfaction compared to the control group,” he adds.
2. Drink water.
“The second thing that I do in my morning ritual is to drink 16-24 ounces of water,” says Robles. “Our bodies tend to get dehydrated while we are sleeping. This can be seen by the color of your urine first thing in the morning. The darker the color, the more dehydrated you are.”
“It is easy to forget to drink water throughout the day. Therefore, starting your day off with two to three cups is an easy way to increase your overall water intake before your day starts,” he explains, noting that water can help curb your appetite and potentially decrease the number of calories you consume for breakfast and throughout the day.
Let this be the year you finally start that regular meditation practice.
White weighs in: “One of the first things I do to start my day is a quick 10-minute meditation each morning. This sets the tone for positivity, less stress and wellness before I get going with the business of my hectic work schedule and family life as mom of two boys. I use the Calm app, which has multiple options, and I sit quietly and breathe deeply. Some mornings, if I do not have time, I may listen on my car ride to work or while in the shower.”
“There is data that shows multiple benefits to meditation, including a decrease in inflammatory markers (which has an effect on our immune system), decrease in anxiety and depression, decrease in memory loss, and improvements in blood pressure,” she continues, citing one meta-analysis of 12 studies that found a decrease in high blood pressure among the 996 participants who practiced meditation.
As White highlights, “even the American Heart Association advocates for meditation to improve health and decrease blood pressure.”
4. Make your bed.
This tip comes from psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo.
Here’s her take: “When I wake up every day in the morning, I make my bed, so I encourage you to do the same for your health and a more positive outlook in life. People often forget to make their beds when they live alone. However, people who make their beds in the morning are happier and more productive than people who don’t do it.”
“So the first thing you should do each day makes your bed,” she adds. “The slight sense of pride will make you want to do more and more things. During the day, that one task will turn into many tasks done. Making your bed will also show that little things in life do matter.”
5. Get some natural light.
Not all of us have outdoor space, but we do have windows.
“Whether I’m at home or on the road, the first thing I do is open the shades to get some natural light,” offers Dr. Michael Genovese, chief medical officer of Acadia Healthcare. “We have long known that sunlight can improve mood (we use light boxes to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder). Getting some natural light at the beginning of the day is an easy way to get a healthy head start on the day.”
6. Do some exercise, even if it’s not a full workout.
“Even if I can’t get a 30-minute workout in, I try to get in at least a minute of movement, such as stretching, body weight resistance movement, or even a burst of cardio,” says Dr. Sylvia Gonsahn-Bollie, who is dual board-certified in internal medicine and obesity medicine.
“Morning workouts are a natural mood enhancer. As little as five minutes can be beneficial. Movement is helpful during the pandemic to stay healthy and happy,” she says, citing research finding that physical activity levels are related to mood states, level of anxiety and self-rated health during COVID-19 lockdown.
Can’t bring yourself to do that five-minute workout (you can!) or a Yoga with Adriene session on YouTube? Just stretch instead.
“I do a 10-minute stretching routine every morning focusing on my neck, shoulders and upper back. I tend to carry a lot of tension in my neck, which is exacerbated by my job, which involves bending my neck forward for most of my surgeries,” says Dr. Nicole Leigh Aaronson, a pediatric otolaryngologist at Nemours Children’s Health in Delaware and an associate clinical professor of otolaryngology and pediatrics at Thomas Jefferson University. “This helps to keep my muscles from getting too tight and prevents headaches.”
Check out YouTube for “stretching” and follow along with a video or simply set a timer for 10 minutes and do your own thing.
8. Take a short walk.
Dr. Daniel Boyer of the Farr Institute walks around his neighborhood for around 15 minutes before breakfast most mornings. It’s probably a good idea for all of us who are able.
“Walking is also a form of exercise that gives me energy and helps improve my focus,” he says.
Walking in nature, in particular, may be especially beneficial (if you live in a city, a park or green space fits the bill).
“A nature walk makes you interact with the environment and may improve your moods, enabling you to deal with any stressful situation of the day. Nature walks may improve your psychological well-being because it reduces stress levels,” he explains, pointing to a 2018 study published in Frontiers in Psychology.
9. Do something you enjoy.
Amy Robbins, a clinical psychologist and BIÂN Chicago’s director of mental health, likes to listen to music, a podcast or a book on Audible while getting ready in the morning.
“We are so inundated with so much fear-based information at this time that I want to have control over what I am putting into my mind. I am always listening to something that helps me learn and grow and feel good about myself,” she says. “Everyone is feeling upside down and out of control right now, so it is extremely important to focus on the parts of your life that you have some control over to give your foundation a bit of sturdiness.”
10. Get dressed.
Yes, as in put something on other than pajamas. When you look good, you feel good.
“I make a ritual out of getting dressed for the day. Putting on clothes that make you feel good about yourself and ready to face the day in whatever way makes you most comfortable can boost your self-confidence and start you off on the right foot,” says Zereana Jess-Huff, chief clinical officer at Wysa. “It’s all about wearing what makes you feel your best.”