10 Dietitians and Doctors Share Their Morning Routines
The time and energy we invest in our morning rituals is sacred, often setting the tone for our entire day. From eating a healthy breakfast to squeezing in a workout, the more diligent we are at maintaining these rituals, the more likely they are to pay off in the form of long-term health perks, like improved energy and cheerier moods.
With so many health-boosting morning rituals to choose from, sometimes it's helpful to know how others start their day, in order to figure out how best to start your own—and who better to get the inside scoop from than health experts?
We touched base with several physicians, neuroscientists and dietitians to find out the first thing they do for their health every morning. Here's how you can get in on the action too.
1. "I avoid using an alarm clock."
It's hard to start your morning off right when you're startled awake by a blaring alarm. "It immediately causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure by release of neurotransmitters, like adrenaline," says Miami-based physician Hervé Damas, MD. "This can contribute to feelings of anxiety and stress that can last throughout the day."
On the other hand, allowing the sunlight to wake you is the most natural and peaceful way to wake up, as it allows your body to ease into the day. "If you must use an alarm, I suggest using one that slowly awakens you through the use of less 'alarming' sounds over an extended period of time," suggests Dr. Damas. (Think: Philips Wake-Up Light Alarm Clock.)
2. "My morning ritual begins with meditation."
Science suggests meditation helps with autonomic function, calming the nervous system and helping you live your life in a more fluid, less reactionary way.
"I sit in my bed with a pillow behind me in lotus position, and meditate for 20 minutes," says Miami-based board-certified cardiologist Adam Splaver. His go-to meditations include vipassana (also known as insight or mindfulness meditation) and pranayama (box breathing—four-second breath in, four-second hold, four-second breath out, four-second hold).
For maximum effectiveness, Dr. Splaver recommends practicing daily and working your way up to 20 minutes each morning. "Practice in a quiet place, and don't wait to be in crisis mode when initiating," he adds. "Be prepared for a stressful situation by being proactive and practicing consistently before the crisis hits."
3. "I drink a full glass of water."
Recipe pictured above: Strawberry, Basil & Lime Infused Water
No need for fancy fluid concoctions in the a.m.—plain H20 is all you need for adequate morning hydration (though we do love to infuse our water with fruit or herbs for extra flavor!) "I drink a full, 12-ounce glass of water before I eat anything in the morning," says Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RDN, nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition. "That rehydrates me from a night of breathing and sweating (fluid loss), ensures my hunger signals are appropriate for breakfast (you don't want to confuse thirst and hunger) and already sets me a good 15-20% into my daily fluid goal."
Related: 6 Tips for Healthy Hydration
4. "I set my intention for the day."
"Every morning generally starts with a cup of coffee and 15 minutes alone to set my intention for the day," says Brooklyn-based registered dietitian-nutritionist Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN. "I'm not interacting with a screen or doing anything other than sitting with my thoughts and coffee." In Feller's experience, having the time and space to ground yourself before a busy day can help you enter the bustle of city life feeling less stressed and more prepared for the day ahead.
5. "I get brushing."
One of the first things California-based registered dietitian Martha Lawder, RD, does in the a.m. is brush her teeth. "The mouth is the entrance to our digestive system, and I want to make sure I take care of mine with good dental care," she says. "It doesn't just keep my dentist happy—it puts me at lower risk for developing health concerns, like heart disease." Brush for two minutes with some fluoride toothpaste, and you're good to go.
6. "I add ground flax to my breakfast."
Recipe pictured above: Low-Carb Seeded Quick Bread
"I make it a daily habit to add ground flax to my breakfast," says New York City-based registered dietitian Rachel Fine, RD. Ground flax (from flaxseed) contains the highest percentage of omega-3 fatty acids per serving, which convert in the body to EPA and DHA, two super-important omegas that are best known for the roles they play in heart and brain health.
It's also a rich source of lignans, Fine adds, a powerful phytochemical with anti-oxidative characteristics (meaning it may protect your cells against free radicals). Just sprinkle ground flax into your oatmeal, yogurt, or smoothie, and mosey on with your day.
7. "Starting the day with my favorite beverage is everything."
For Montana-based registered dietitian Heidi Moretti, RD, there's no better way to start the morning than with a cup of freshly brewed coffee—and not just because it boosts her mood and antioxidant intake. "When you love a food or beverage, it provides the brain with positive energy," she says. "The olfactory gland in the nose directly interacts with the limbic system in the brain, which exerts feelings of calm and focus almost immediately." Bottoms up!
8. "I start with a 10-minute stretch."
"To get myself primed and ready for the day, I perform a 10-minute flexibility, mobility and movement routine," says Grayson Wickham, PT, DPT, CSCS, founder of Movement Vault, a digital flexibility and mobility platform. "The routine varies every day, as movement variety is key."
Post-sleep, your body's been relatively still for roughly 7-8 hours, which is why it's so important to get some form of movement within the first 30 minutes of waking up. "This stillness can lead to having tight muscles and joints, as well as pain in specific areas, such as your lower back," says Wickham. By getting your stretch on, this primes your muscles and nervous system for your day, decreasing your risk of injury in the process.
9. "I go for a walk first thing."
"I go for a walk first thing, no matter what the weather is—get up, throw on clothes and go out the door," says Krista Scott-Dixon, PhD, director of curriculum for Precision Nutrition. Her go-to stop is usually the coffee shop, but if it's too early, she'll go for a stroll around the neighborhood and sometimes turn the outing into a walking meditation.
"Anecdotally, I've found that a 15-20 minute walk in the morning significantly improves my mood, concentration, focus, productivity and overall energy levels," she says. Besides improving your cardiovascular health and strengthening your bones and muscles, studies suggest that walking can improve memory, while walking meditation, specifically, may be helpful in combatting symptoms of depression.
The best part about walking first thing is that it's simple and doesn't require any specific guidance or exercise gear. "Even a five-minute morning walk will likely show some effect," says Dr. Scott-Dixon. "If you like, turn it into a basic walking meditation—don't overthink it, just experience walking."
10. "My day starts with cuddles and cardio."
Following a few minutes of cuddles with her 4-year-old daughter, "the first thing I do for my physical health is hit the treadmill," says Nicole Avena, PhD, assistant professor of neuroscience at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. "I get the kids off to school and get right to it, before checking emails or anything work-related."
Making exercise a priority in the a.m.—and not setting any other goal outside of making it happen—is a great way to make sure it actually gets done. "I used to focus on improving my time and upping miles, but I found that it made me feel bad if I didn't hit a specific time or distance goal," says Dr. Avena. "The purpose should be to feel good about being physically active, so now I just set the goal and do it."