Mornings can be chaos – a flurry of clothes thrown around the room as you decide what to wear, toast scarfed down in gulps as you head out of the door – and coffee scarfed down even faster. Or, they can be times to reset your mind for the day, increase your nutrient intake, start building some healthy habits and setting your daily intentions to meet a goal – and the whole point of creating a healthy morning routine is to achieve the latter.
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But, when I started reading a few posts on how to set up some healthy morning habits (in an attempt to makeover my own less useful regime), my health journo spider sense started tingling.
It’s not that the advice was wrong – in principal all the ideas were all great and I looked forward to putting a lot of them into practice, to replace my own normal morning routine of getting up, slumping on the sofa and scrolling social media for an hour, but a few things about them conflicted with advice I’d had from the many fitness trainers, nutritionists, dentists and more that I’ve interviewed in the past – and so, I decided to write my own on post on how to develop some healthy morning habits – and just pinpoint a few things you might want to watch out for when creating your own.
Why a Healthy Morning Routine is Helpful
Routine is basically repeating the same thing over and over again until it sticks. And, as you do that it creates new pathways in your brain that turn your behaviour into something you no longer need to consciously think about – the action then becomes a habit.
And there’s also some specific elements about the morning that make it a good place to start such a routine.
The biggest one is that first thing in the morning, you’re usually at home, or somewhere else where your time is your own. Assuming you don’t get up and immediately check your email, it’s one time of the day where what you do with your time is totally determined by you – not by your boss, or the friend who wants you to go out for a drink or a last-minute deadline – you know all those things that stop you going to your 6pm gym session or spending an hour after work developing your side hustle.
On top of this, creating routine helps you get into a mindset for your task faster. According to Carrie Barron, psychiatrist and author of The Creativity Cure: How to Build Happiness With Your Own Two Hands, setting a routine of a set time and place to do a task can make it easier to get into the zone and stay there, “When you repeatedly show up at a certain place and/or time to, say, paint or write or draw your body and mind become trained to give themselves over to the task on cue.” And that training also works for other morning good habits like getting into an exercise routine or spending some time working on your mindset or stress levels.
You can therefore use this time for anything you like – making time for a hobby you love, creating a routine that will help you meet a goal, or, in the case of what we’re going to talk about here, creating a healthy morning routine that works on your mind and/or body to help you feel happier, healthier, fitter and/or more nourished. But there’s more…
The Theory of Intention
Have you ever heard the saying that you are the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time with? Well, it’s also true that how you start your day can play a large part in how the rest of it goes. For example, researchers in Pennsylvania discovered that if you wake up deciding it’s going to be a bad day and it will be.
“When you wake up in the morning with a certain outlook for the day, in some sense the die is already cast,” says the study’s author neuropsychologist Martin Sliwinski. “If you think your day is going to be stressful, you’re going to feel those effects even if nothing stressful ends up happening.”
If however you wake up and within the first hour of your day you do three healthy things – say drink a glass of water, tick off a portion of fruit off of your 5 a day and make a healthy lunch, you’re already saying to yourself, we’re going to do well (but if even with those good intentions it all goes wrong when you get home at night you need to read this piece on how to stick to your diet at night).
How to Decide on Your Healthy Morning Habits
When I first started investigating the concept of a morning routine, I was looking for a way to be more productive – I run two other blogs alongside this one as well as my main job as an author and journalist and time was getting away from me (mainly watching dogs on TikTok) but then I started reading other people’s routines and they seemed to spend about two hours on exercise, self development, whisking up gourmet pancakes – I was knackered just reading them.
So, while I’m going to talk about a few things that you could be good morning habits for health, that doesn’t mean you should do all of them – or any of them! You need to make sure your morning routine helps support your goals.
Mistake One Not to Make: Not knowing what you’re trying to achieve. Maybe you’ve heard that a morning routine is the key to success, but, if you don’t know what success means ie, what you’re trying to achieve, you could do 20 things every AM and still not get where you want to be.
Think about your main goal. Think about the things that might help you achieve it – particularly the things that tend to get crowded out at the end of the day. Those are the things that you should try and shift to your morning routine.
How Long Should Your Morning Routine Be
Again, that’s up to you – if one of your goals is to eat more healthily, you could achieve that in five minutes by simply swapping a high-sugar breakfast cereal for some oats you soaked overnight and a handful of berries, ten if you also pack a salad for lunch!
If you are aiming to exercise as part of your morning routine though, then you need to allocate more time. And chances are, unless you’re like me and basically waste the first two hours of your day frittering about on social media with endless cups of tea, you might have to get up a bit earlier to do that – and this is where you might make another mistake.
Mistake Two Not to Make: Do not sacrifice your sleep for this thing. If you go to bed at midnight then wake yourself up at 5am to carry out a two-hour morning routine – and that leaves you feeling like death warmed up for the rest of the day, then it’s not going to be helping you – it’s likely to do the opposite as you need good sleep for energy, immunity, stress control, productivity and even weight control.
The healthiest morning routine should therefore be long enough to help you achieve something toward your goals – not but so long that you’re sacrificing sleep to achieve it. While spending say, 20 minutes a day, working on meditation or going for a walk, might not seem a lot, by the end of the year you’ll have spend 120 hours stilling your mind, or racking up the steps, – even a little but of working on yourself every morning will add up.
Better Ways to Fit in Your Morning Routine.
Get up when you wake up: If you wake up naturally and push snooze three times, dump the snooze button. Waking up naturally, assuming it’s close to your normal wake up time and not 2am, is a sign that your body is in a light phase of sleep and you’ll probably feel better if you get up now than two snooze cycles later. And don’t faff about, start your routine as soon as you are out of bed – and absolutely do not check your phone first.
Waking yourself up after 7-8 hours of sleep: A healthy amount of sleep is around 6-8 hours so, if you let yourself sleep for 7-8 hours and then wake yourself up with an alarm to make time for your routine you’re unlikely to suffer too many negative consequences – sleep expert Dr Neil Stanley once told me that a good sign is to see how you feel at 11am. If you’re awake, that’s normal – if you’re sleepy, then you might be a long sleeper who does need more sleep.
To get yourself going, try one of these brilliantly positive wake up songs – or, make a few of them the soundtrack to your morning routine.
Go to bed a little earlier to fit it all in: If you find yourself regularly staying up until midnight or 1am and have a normal 9-5 job, there’s less chance of you being able to wake up early and still get the sleep you need, so, try pulling your bedtime earlier to make room for your new morning habits and those 7-8 hours of sleep.
If you really can’t get moving first thing, you might have what’s known as an owl chronotype (see more here) and in that case, you do your best work later in the day and a morning routine probably isn’t going to get the best results for you no matter what’s in it. Try creating an after work routine that helps you reach your goals instead.
Healthy Morning Habits to Develop
So, what are some of the things that you can add to a healthy morning routine. Here’s 13 ideas that can help boost both your body and your mind …
1. Drink a Glass of Water
As soon as you get up.
Good hydration helps raise your energy level and ensure you’re brain is working at full speed. It’s also been linked to other health benefits because it helps thin the blood. Generally we wake up dehydrated and so, drinking a glass of water should definitely be part of your morning routine.
Mistake Three Not to Make: Adding lemon to it. You’re often told to add lemon juice to your water first thing to detox your system – it doesn’t do that. Lemon has no magical detox properties. It will add a little bit of vitamin C to the mix, but and it tastes nice, but it also true that lemon water is absolutely not the best choice for your teeth – particularly if you’re planning on brushing them in the next hour.
In one UK study , twice daily drinkers of hot water and lemon or fruity herbal teas were found to be at 11 times more risk of severe acid erosion than normal – and that leads to thinner, darker and more sensitive teeth.
If you do want to try hot water and lemon, have it with breakfast which the study found reduces the damage, or drink it through a straw so it doesn’t touch your teeth. If you do drink it normally, wait at least an hour after drinking it to brush your teeth so you don’t speed up erosion.
2. Solve Some Problems
If you’re stuck on something that stressing you out or making you unhappy, adding some time in your morning routine to try and think of solutions is a great idea. The reason is your levels of the hormone cortisol are higher in the morning. This is more commonly associated with stress, but it’s also related to making changes in behaviour and addressing fears and concerns.
It’s even been shown that people having therapy for phobias got faster results when their sessions were scheduled in the AM.
If you’re stuck, just sit and write about the problem, don’t try and solve it, just scribble and see what comes out. You might find the solution is in there, and if it’s not, at least addressing the issue will help.
3. Eat a Good Breakfast
By a good breakfast, we mean something containing protein like eggs or Greek yogurt; some fruit or vegetables and a small portion of wholegrain carbohydrates like porridge oats, wholemeal bread or Weetabix – this will balance your energy throughout the rest of the morning.
Morning Mistake Four Not to Make: Eating for the sake of eating. If you’re not hungry in the morning, don’t force yourself to eat breakfast as part of your morning routine.
It’s not going to hurt if you eat something healthy (as opposed to inhaling a doughnut) when you get to work if that works better for you, it’s also fine to not eat anything at all (see the arguments for and against breakfast here).
However, do assess your body – if you skip breakfast and then feel fuzzy-headed, irritable or just not quite with it until lunch, you might find that eating breakfast shakes things up for you even if you don’t feel hungry.
Also, a healthy breakfast will add extra fibre and calcium your day, so if you do skip it, then make sure you try and get these later in the day.
4. Try an Appreciation Shower
You should also look into working on your mental health as part of your morning routine – and this is one of the nicest ideas I’ve heard.
‘Instead of zoning out or worse, stressing on all the things you need to do today, spend shower time focusing on the good things you have in your life – whether it’s good eyesight, a loving partner or just enough hot water,’ says lifecoach Michelle Zelli . ‘Keep at it for the duration of your shower and you’ll start every day in a positive frame of mind.’
5. Watch the Sunrise
Not only is it the perfect background for a morning yoga session, or journalling session, if your morning routine see you up early enough, watching the sunrise is one way to create a sense of awe in your life – and this has been shown to help fight inflammation in the body that’s linked to a whole heap of health concerns – and also boost your immunity.
And it’s pretty!
6. Meet a Friend for Breakfast
This doesn’t have to be part of your daily morning routine, but maybe book a slot on a certain day every month for a healthy goals catch up with friends.
While it’s more common to see friends in the evening it can turn into a gripe fest where you spend the time hashing over what’s got you down that day. If you meet first thing, you’re actually more likely to talk about positive things and ways you make changes – in fact, make that the point of these mornings. Between you aim to come up with solutions and positive ideas rather than commiserating over wine.
7. Make Your Bed
The theory behind this is that if you aim to make your bed every day – and achieve it, then you start your day with a success mindset that sets you up for a day of getting things done. Plus, getting into a nicely made bed each night is a treat. And it works…. but
Mistake Five Not To Make: If you have a dust allergy, making your bed is not suggested. It actually helps the mites thrive – just like you they enjoy being all snuggled up under the sheets. Maybe just give the rest of the room a tidy, and leave your sheets or duvet open.
8. Get Some Sunlight
Sunlight first thing in the morning is associated with a number of health benefits including more energy throughout the day, better sleep and even lower anxiety.
You don’t even need to head outside to get results, just sitting by a window has the same effects.
9. Think About Your Impact on Others
If you’re not happy with your job, or how your life is going, this could be a great happiness boosting step to your morning to routine.
Think about how what you have to do today, will help others says Dr Srikumar S. Rao, author of Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated and Successful – No Matter What.
This can help keep you motivated and feel more positive about what you’re doing – which then puts you in a better frame of mind to try and change it.
10. Make Your Lunch
If you’re trying to lose weight, or eat more healthily, the more meals you make at home the better. It allows you to create meals that fit your goals – so, ensure they do.
Think about what you need to add to the meal to help raise your energy, increase your nutrients, help you reach 10 portions of fruit and vegetables a day – or what ever your goal might be and use the first two meals of your day to pur yourself firmly on track for success.
People who exercise in the morning are more likely to stick to their workout than those who workout later in the day – mainly because nothing gets in the way of you doing it.
Mistake Six Not to Make: Not warming up before you workout. And I’m not just talking about heading out for Boot Camp or a run, here, even early morning stretches can cause problems if you do them when your body is completely cold first thing.
During the night your discs in your back plump up and restore to their normal shape. Bending forward now can put compress the front parts of the disc too much and squish it around which can lead to pain and other problems. Get up, stretch for the ceiling and walk around a bit before you start bending forward..
12. Get Frisky
“Morning sex can strengthen your immune system for the day by enhancing your levels of IgA, an antibody that protects against infection,” says Dr Debby Herbenick, in her book Because It Feels Good. On top of that it also leaves you and your partner feeling closer for the day.
13. Chill Out With a Coffee
One of the biggest myths in health is that coffee is bad for you. In fact, it’s the most common source of antioxidants in the diet for most people. Taking time to relax with a coffee is therefore the perfect addition to any morning routine.
Mistake Seven Not to Make: If that coffee is too large or too full of sugar, syrup or other additions it’s not going to help you.
Let’s start with the size thing. Drinking too much coffee in one go can trigger fatigue (as it causes your blood sugar to rise then fall) but research suggests that drinking a small cup (about 50ml) every 2-3 hours throughout the morning helps you avoid this crash.
You should also eat your breakfast before you drink a coffee to stabilise your blood sugar levels which helps your health – and your energy levels.
And as for the syrup, sugar and whipped cream thing – if you’re already consumed half of your day’s calories before lunch, there’s a good chance you’re on your way to added pounds. Stick with a basic flat one, an espresso or even a cappuccino – or check out our guides to the lowest calorie drinks in Starbucks – this is the US version and if you live in the UK you’ll find the list of the best choices for you here.
So there you have it, a few tips on how to create a healthy morning routine, what you might want it to include – and a few mistakes to try not to make while you’re doing it. So, what did I miss – have you got any healthy steps in your morning routine that you suggest or other advice on how to make one easier to stick to? Then please do leave them in the comments.