Every morning, the choices you make can set the tone for your entire day and affect your health, for better or worse. Unfortunately, we all know how easy it is to get off track when you feel pulled in a million directions as soon as the alarm goes off.
Still, creating healthy a.m. habits pays off. Making time for a balanced breakfast, for example, helps you stay at a healthy weight and can stabilize blood sugar levels. Morning workouts are also a boon for your body: People who exercise in the morning may burn more body fat and stress less.
Plus, there’s more to a successful morning routine than eating right and exercising. Many top health experts take advantage of the quiet morning hours to set goals and practice mindfulness, which is a research-backed way to boost your brainpower, increase focus, handle stress better, and improve your relationships. Read on to learn the top five ways health experts take care of their physical (and mental) health every single a.m.
1. They never skip breakfast.
Usually I have oatmeal made with nonfat milk, peanut butter, and chia seeds; orange juice mixed with seltzer; and a cup of black coffee. If I’m running late, I might just have a slice of whole wheat bread or one waffle with peanut butter. While I’m eating I multitask by reading the paper and checking email.
-- Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN, author of The Small Change Diet
My go-to meal is organic eggs scrambled with lots of veggies (usually spinach, kale, mushrooms, and bell pepper), seasoned with turmeric, black pepper, and herbs, served with half an avocado and a cup of fresh in-season fruit. My breakfast is loaded with nutrient-rich veggies, high-quality protein, beneficial fat, and fiber, which leaves me feeling full, satisfied, and energized.
-- Cynthia Sass, RDN, author of Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches With Pulses -- The New Superfood
I’m not hungry first thing in the morning, so my breakfast is a late affair -- sometimes as late as noon. My standard breakfast is a mix of berries and other fruits, some whole-grain cereal or oatmeal, and at times a bit of plain, organic Greek yogurt.
-- David L. Katz, MD, director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center and founder/director of the True Health Initiative
For breakfast, I have oatmeal with raisins, almonds, walnuts, and cinnamon, which keeps me full until lunchtime.
-- Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH, WebMD medical editor
Usually I eat hot muesli with butter, cinnamon, and cardamom, but sometimes I mix it up with eggs. I eat my breakfast and have my tea or coffee before checking any electronics and eat in quiet, focusing only on the eating process.
-- Darya Rose, PhD, creator of Summer Tomato and The Mindful Meal Challenge
2. They sweat first thing.
I exercise every day. Thirty minutes of aerobic, 15 minutes of resistance training, and usually about 30 minutes of yoga. All done before the kids wake up!
-- James Beckerman, MD, cardiologist
Around 9 a.m., I work out in my home gym. I do 40 minutes on an elliptical, 5K on a rower, and various calisthenics and weight lifting. Although time working out is time away from working, it really isn’t. I often compose notes and columns in my head as I exercise. I have had many patients tell me they didn't have time to exercise. I have always responded that I did not have time not to. The productivity enhancement pays for itself many times over.
-- David Katz, MD
After I wake up and have coffee with my husband (which is a great time to catch up with each other), I get my aerobic workout in, usually on the elliptical. Each week I challenge myself to go a little faster or harder. I do resistance training with weights twice a week later in the day.
-- Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH
3. They wake up early to have time for themselves.
Most days I wake up at 5:30 a.m., an hour and half before the rest of my family, so I can take care of myself. I get on my stationary bike or do a weight workout, since I am most rested and have no distractions in the morning. Then I shower, make my morning smoothie, and pack my lunch. By 7 a.m. when I wake the kids, I am mentally and physically ready to take care of my kids, my clients, and myself.
-- Samantha Lynch, MS, RDN
I usually wake up around 7 a.m., turn on my coffee maker, and feed my dog. Next, I take a quick shower, get dressed, and drink my coffee while I check my email. Then, I take my dog out for her morning walk, which gives me 20 minutes of walking around outside. Having a morning routine, whether it’s meditating or simply walking your dog, is very important to give you some “me” time, which can positively set the stage for the rest of your day.
-- Joe Dowdell, personal trainer and strength coach
4. They set goals.
My morning routine actually starts the night before when I write out my “action list”: three to five things I need to do the next day to move me closer to my goals. Writing them out simplifies my morning, giving me a clear headspace. In the morning, the first thing I do when my eyes open is think of three things I'm grateful for, which helps me see opportunities where I may have otherwise seen problems.
-- Adam Rosante, strength and nutrition coach and creator of Two Week Transformation
First thing, I text my partner “good morning.” Then I stretch as many joints as I can before getting out of bed. Next, I take 5 or 10 minutes to set my goals for the day. It helps with time management, since some days are more hectic than others. After I get out of bed, I weigh myself. Then I turn on my playlist with songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s, like Aretha Franklin and Gladys Knight. Singing along to the tunes helps set the tone for a positive outlook for the day.
-- Bruni Nazario, MD, WebMD medical editor
5. They start each day mindfully -- and gratefully.
I use the whole process of brewing coffee as a morning meditation. I love the sound of the beans in the coffee grinder and the aromas of the brewing process -- just being present with the sounds and my breath, with an effort to start the day mindfully.
-- Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN, author of Body Kindness
The most critical part of the day for me happens in the first hour of waking because it sets the precedent for the rest of the day. The first thing I do is meditate. It helps to clear my mind and prepare mentally for the day ahead. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed, I like to keep things in perspective with a few minutes of gratitude at the end of my meditation.
-- Tiffany Cruikshank, yoga teacher, founder of Yoga Medicine, and author of Meditate Your Weight
Weekday mornings I walk with my daughter to school, which is great for our relationship. Then I walk back home as I mentally order my day and week and think creatively about work projects. Having mental space to organize, plan, and be creative is super important to my being relaxed, productive, and innovative. Plus, walking is great for reducing anxiety, decreasing stress, and boosting mood.
-- Gail Saltz, MD, author of The Power of Different