Editor’s Note: Dana Santas, known as the “Mobility Maker,” is a certified strength and conditioning specialist and mind-body coach in professional sports, and is the author of the book “Practical Solutions for Back Pain Relief.”
How you start each morning has a huge impact — positively or negatively — on the rest of your day. By practicing a healthy morning routine, you can increase your productivity, decrease stress, boost happiness and more.
Too many people wake up each day to a barrage of responsibilities that end up dictating the flow of their mornings. If you have kids or pets, you need to care for them. Most people have morning chores, need to make breakfast, get ready for work, and so on. I am not suggesting you shirk your responsibilities. But the truth is, you will be better prepared to handle everything on your plate each morning, if you start with a healthy self-care routine.
Below, I share some of my own healthy morning habits, as well as tips and tricks for creating a routine that sticks — and what to do when you falter. Some of the habits in my routine will resonate with you, while others may not. As you read on, keep in mind your own lifestyle and health goals, so you can create a morning routine that will work best for you.
1. Set your alarm to work for you — not against you
The first step to kicking your day off right is adjusting your sleep schedule to ensure you have enough time in the morning for yourself and your responsibilities. If your kids get up at 6:30 a.m., this means getting up before them. Or, even if you don’t have kids or pets to care for, if you usually get up at 7 a.m. to scramble out the door by 7:30, it’s time for you to start your days earlier.
That said, sleep is important. When you adjust your alarm to wake up sooner, you also need to adjust your bedtime to turn in earlier. There is nothing healthy about being sleep deprived, so aim to get at least seven hours of sleep.
2. Breathe in the new day
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
Unfortunately, for many people, the answer is “reaching for my phone.” If that’s you, how many minutes do you spend each morning scrolling and potentially letting stress build due to what you find on the news, social media or checking messages?
What if you made a rule that — before reaching for you phone — you took six long, deep breaths to focus your attention on the power and blessing of your own life force?
Because the diaphragm acts as both a respiratory and core postural muscle, diaphragmatic breathing not only helps you positively focus your mind, it primes your body to support movement and good posture.
3. Drink water before coffee
Because we lose water through our breath and sweat while we sleep, we usually wake up thirsty. Considering that the adult human body is comprised of up to 60% water, hydration is essential for good health.
Drinking water first thing in the morning will not only help rehydrate you but can also jump-start your metabolism, boosting it by up to 30%, according to research.
4. Move your body in all directions
There is a reason we instinctively stretch when we first wake up. Our bodies crave movement after being sedentary. Why not direct that instinct to be as productive as possible?
Rather than only doing a quick stretch in bed and then going about your day, favoring your dominant side, set your body right and prepare it for daily activity by taking it through all planes of motion, evenly using both sides of our bodies. You can accomplish this with a quick yoga flow or this 10-minute body-weight workout:
5. Make time to exercise
Maybe you can’t fit in a full workout in the morning. That’s OK. You can sneak in exercise by stacking it onto some of your existing morning habits. For years now, I’ve been doing push-ups before I get into the shower and squats while I brush my teeth.
It’s called habit stacking, a concept James Clear references in his book, “Atomic Habits.” By stacking a new exercise habit onto a morning habit that is already ingrained, it makes it easier to sustain.
6. Set your mind right
Give yourself a clean slate to start the day with just a few minutes of mindfulness meditation.
There are numerous apps that offer free guided meditations under 10 minutes. Or you can set a timer on your phone to whatever length and sit quietly focused on the sensations of your breath or quietly repeating a positive affirmation, mantra or intention you want to set for your day.
7. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude
Research shows that practicing gratitude can decrease pain, enhance empathy and reduce aggression — which is a great way to start your day, especially if you have a morning commute in traffic. You can practice gratitude in the morning by waking each day to watch the sunrise, writing things you are grateful for in a journal, or incorporating a gratitude focus into your meditation.
Personally, I share a gratitude white board with my husband, and we each write three things on it nightly. It’s technically a nighttime habit, but because of its location in our master bathroom, it’s one of the first things we see every morning. We’ve done it for many years now, and I still love waking up to see what he wrote and being reminded of what I was grateful for from the day before.
8. Make your bed
By making your bed every morning, you demonstrate to yourself that you take personal responsibility for your tasks and commit to keeping your personal space comfortable and tidy. It sets a precedent that reinforces the foundation of your ability to follow through.
For more on this, check out Adm. William H. McRaven’s book “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life … and Maybe the World.”
9. Repeat your routine
This is the hardest part. Establishing a routine is not easy. It’s understandable, if you start out strong but then falter. If you sleep in one morning or forget some new habits, don’t be too hard on yourself … but also don’t give up. Start again the next morning and try some of the suggestions below to help keep you on track.
10. Set yourself up for success
To make it easier for you to accomplish your healthy morning self-care routine, take steps the night before to lessen your load and make the things you need to do more convenient. For instance, set your clothes out for the next morning. If you have children, put their out clothes, too (or have them do it). Another option is preparing breakfast in advance. I make a big pot of oatmeal that I can just warm up in the morning. If you take lunch to work or need to pack lunch for kids, do that ahead as well.
Getting up earlier can be one of the biggest challenges to overcome. Leverage technology to help. Maybe you need a more gradual alarm tone to wake you. Or you might require a louder, more startling sound. Test out the different options on your phone. Because I struggled with always hitting snooze, I invested $30 in a clock with a warm light that gradually brightens the room before the alarm goes off — and it worked for me. Figure out what works for you.
Are you ready to start a new healthier morning routine?
Tomorrow morning is your opportunity!
Life is hectic for all of us, but we can always make time for things that we deem worthy. Trust me — your overall health and daily perspective are worth it.