It’s hard enough getting out of bed when your morning alarm goes off at the last possible minute. Could anything possibly justify setting the alarm several minutes or even an hour or two earlier?
As a matter of fact, yes, dozens of experts have been eager to inform me. Recently, I put out a call for health, fitness, and mental health professionals who choose to wake up early every day to get a jump on their wellness routines. I was surprised by the number and enthusiasm of the responses I received—these early risers are an energetic bunch. Below, six experts share advice on getting your day off to a healthy start.
“Beginning my morning with yoga and meditation enables me to be my best self for the rest of the day,” says Chelsey Kapuscinski, a certified yoga instructor and Rolfer in New York City. “I’m calmer and more present for my clients, my relationships, and myself.” Often, she’ll devote 60 to 75 minutes to this practice. For someone just starting out, however, she recommends a 10-minute morning routine.
“Start with 8 minutes of your preferred yoga poses,” Kapuscinski says. “Then follow with 2 minutes of meditation: Sit up as comfortably as possible, rest your hands on your knees, close your eyes, and observe your breath. Use a timer, if you like. When the 2 minutes are up, blink open your eyes and gaze at an unmoving point on the ground a few inches in front of you. Then take a deep, slow inhalation, and exhale out your mouth. This helps ground you before you transition into your day.”
Quick tip: Match your choice of yoga poses to your energy level. For example, Kapuscinski does Sun Salutations when she’s in the mood for a dynamic workout and Child’s Pose when she feels like taking a gentler, more relaxed approach.
Sean Hashmi, M.D., assistant area medical director for Kaiser Permanente in Woodland Hills, California, hits the gym at 4 a.m. before going to work. He typically spends 2 hours on a workout regimen that includes cardio activities, yoga with mindfulness meditation, and weight training. “It’s my way of attaining my first accomplishment of the day,” says Dr. Hashmi.
Exercising before work also lets him start his day on a positive note at the biochemical level. “When I work out, I get endorphins going,” Dr. Hashmi says, referencing brain chemicals that produce feelings of well-being during exercise. “I have the positive energy that allows me to go to work and perform at the level that I expect of myself and my patients deserve.”
Quick tip: Pack your gym bag the night before. Sign up for an early-morning exercise class or personal training session for an extra push out of bed.
If you’re a dog lover whose schedule doesn’t require getting up in the predawn hours, this routine may be for you: Trinity Perkins, M.S.Ed., a certified fitness trainer and lifestyle blogger, takes her Jack Russell terrier, Ace, for a walk first thing in the morning. “Not only does he need to go out, but it also gets me out into the fresh air and sunlight,” she says. Depending on the weather, their walk may last up to 45 minutes.
Perkins appreciates the serenity of her suburban neighborhood in the early morning. “It’s my quiet time, before I log into work or check my phone,” she says. “It makes me happy watching Ace sniff the neighborhood like it’s the first time he’s been here. And it keeps me on schedule, because I know Ace depends on me to let him out.”
Quick tip: Follow your morning walk with 5 minutes of stretching, Perkins recommends.
Jennifer Glockner, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Los Angeles, begins every day by making and eating breakfast. She recommends allowing at least 20 minutes for your morning meal when possible: 5 minutes for preparation and 15 minutes for eating. “Ideally, breakfast, like any other meal, should be eaten mindfully and slowly to allow satiety [a satisfied feeling of fullness] to set in,” she says.
“We fast overnight, leading to a low blood sugar level and a slower metabolism,” Glockner says. “Breakfast is an opportunity to jumpstart metabolism and provide key nutrients that the body needs to promote wellness and maintain proper weight. In contrast, routinely skipping breakfast may cause overeating at later meals, which eventually may lead to weight gain.”
What’s on the menu? Glockner says that a nutritious breakfast should be primarily composed of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, high-quality proteins (including nuts, seeds, and beans), and a little healthy fat. “For example, I’ll eat a whole-grain waffle with nut butter and berries,” she says. “Or I’ll have a whole-grain tortilla with an egg or beans, avocado, and tomatoes.”
Quick tip: Get a head start the night before by making overnight oats or hardboiled eggs and chopping fruits or veggies.
Erika Martinez, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in Miami, believes that establishing morning and evening routines to bookend each day reduces worry. One component of her morning routine is reading, watching, or listening to something that makes her feel grateful or inspired. As examples, she cites readings from the Daily Stoic and videos of TED Talks. “Novels and self-help books can also be great options—especially audiobooks for the commute to work,” she says.
Dr. Martinez says that the effects of engaging with something positive in the morning may reverberate throughout the rest of the day. “It helps me be more mindful of how I go about my day and use my time,” she says. “It also helps me not take the people or things in my life for granted.”
Quick tip: Write in a journal about something that inspires you as an alternative method of eliciting this frame of mind.
Lisa Santangelo, Pharm.D., is a pharmacist who also runs a lifestyle blog called Food, Family, and Chaos!—and the name of the blog says it all. The busy mother of 9-year-old twins gets up 45 minutes before the kids so she can ease into her day with a leisurely shower, a big mug of tea, and some undisturbed me-time.
“My day just flows better if I don’t have to rush when I first wake up,” she says. “I sit in my recliner, cuddle up in a blanket with my dog Jake, and check my personal email and Facebook—my guilty pleasure,” she says (in a tone that sounds not at all guilty).
Quick tip: Save work email, news websites, and anything else that’s likely to be more stressful than soothing for later in the day.
Scheduling wellness activities early in the day helps ensure that you get around to them. If you decide to give it a try, don’t forget to adjust your bedtime. When you’re getting up an hour earlier, you need to hit the sack an hour earlier, too, to avoid shortchanging your sleep.
It’s unclear whether early to bed and early to rise makes you wealthy and wise. But it might make you healthier, if you find an early-morning wellness routine that works for you.