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How to rock a healthier, happier morning routine

Wednesday 22 March 2017

A woman dances in her kitchen after waking up.
Make keeping healthy habits easier by setting a morning routine.

When you’re looking to make healthy changes to your life, your morning routine is a great place to start searching for opportunities. That first hour, straight after you wake up, is where your behaviour tends to be at its most habitual and ritualised, from what you do when the alarm goes off through to the process of having breakfast.

Altering those rituals is one of the easiest ways to set up new habits. Your morning is also an opportunity to set the tone of your day – starting the day making healthier choices makes it easier to keep focused on making better choices through the rest of the day.

Learning to rock a healthy morning routine doesn’t have to mean making huge changes to what you do every day. It’s about making small changes and taking control of your schedule, paying attention to the choices you’re making and how you can switch to healthier options.

So let’s take a look at the first hour or two of your day, and five things you can do with them to start rocking a healthier, happier morning.

Plan out your morning the night before

Ever had one of those mornings where you feel like you’re starting behind the eight ball? You’re pressed for time, rushing to get ready for work and constantly thinking about what comes next instead of what you’re doing right now.

It’s much harder to make healthy choices when you’re busy responding to everything you need to do, than when you’ve got the time to make considered choices. It’s one of the reasons why it’s easy to start eating better or working out when you’re full of enthusiasm, but you let those habits fall by the wayside as real life intervenes.

You can slow mornings down by planning out your morning the night before. Take a few minutes to list what you’ll need to do, putting down everything you’d like to happen and the order you’d like it to happen in. Include everything: having a shower, brushing your teeth, eating breakfast, getting dressed. If you’re adding new items your morning routine – like exercise, or a new breakfast recipe – take a moment to set up the things you need the night before rather than waiting until the morning.

Writing a plan won’t get every morning running smoothly, but taking some time to focus on what you want to happen means you start your day in control, rather than playing catch-up and making decisions on the hop.

Skip the snooze button

Sure, we all love our snooze button, but every time you drop in-and-out of sleep you’re actually making your mornings a little harder.

Plunging your body and your brain in and out of sleep cycles makes it harder to actually wake up, prolonging the effects of sleep inertia that leave you feeling groggy and tired. Groggy and tired is not a great state to be in when you're trying to make healthier choices.

You’re far better off starting your morning when your alarm goes off. Better still is paying attention to your circadian rhythms and making sure that your alarm is going off when you’re sleeping lightly rather than deep in REM sleep.

A man lies in bed a presses snooze on his alarm clock.

Stay away from email and social media

Your smart phone is a pretty incredible device. It makes a great alarm clock, but if it’s also used for receiving text messages, answering email, checking social media, and getting notifications from a dozen other apps first thing after you wake up, it could be making healthier choices harder.

There’s a reason that a lot of productivity and energy management advice starts with 'ignore your email.' Having all of those notifications in your face first thing after you wake up can be an immense distraction, and it’s pretty easy to get sucked into a morning cycle of checking in with the rest of the world instead of focusing on your goals and routines. Or, say, eating a healthy breakfast.

Take a look at that list you compiled back in step one and set yourself the goal of avoiding computers, tablets, and phones until you’re through your morning plan. If you find the temptation to reach for the phone too much to handle, try going old-school and buying an alarm clock instead of using the phone, or move your phone away from the bed so you have to get up to turn off the alarm before heading to the first task on your list.

Making a simple change to your current routine can make it easier to stick to your pledge to go screen-free, and carve out some extra minutes for other activities on your list.

Fit some movement into you morning

If you’re focusing on getting healthier, it’s a good idea to be active on most days of the week. Mornings are a great time to get yourself moving: your willpower is at its most resilient and there might be fewer challenges to getting out and active.

In fact, the ritualised behaviour most of us go through every morning actually makes it easier to start building a little exercise in.

We all have a bunch of things we do every morning, from getting out of bed through to eating breakfast, and these can be used as a trigger to establish new behaviours. Pick a regular part of your morning ritual – like getting out of bed, or filling the kettle for your morning coffee - and set yourself the goal of getting moving immediately after that happens. If you're not sure where to start, try inserting a 15 minute exercise routine into your morning after you jump out of bed or before you hit the shower.

If fifteen minutes seems like too much to squeeze into your current morning rituals, pick something short and fast to get the blood pumping: kicking off your day with an early morning dance-off, a walk around the block before you begin your morning commute, or five minutes of stretching as soon as you get out of bed.

A couple goes for a jog in the early morning.

Eat healthier at breakfast

We’re not going to beat you over the head with advice you’ve heard a million times before: breakfast matters, you should eat it. If you’re currently skipping the most important meal of the day, step one is eating something in the mornings. That’s the healthiest change you can make, right now, before following any of the other advice on this list.

For everyone else, it’s time to start looking at what you’re eating. Breakfast is your chance to kick-start your metabolism after eight hours of fasting while you’re asleep, and it’ll do the job far better than the quick-fix of a morning coffee. The right healthy breakfast can improve your concentration, reduces your chances of overeating throughout the day, and can reduce the long-term chances of suffering from heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

Generally speaking, your breakfast should be about 25% protein such as nuts or eggs, 25% carbohydrates such as high-fibre bread or porridge, and 50% fruit or vegetables. Eating something for breakfast is good, but if you’re focused on starting your day the best way possible, transitioning towards a regular breakfast that covers this spread is ideal in order to get the full benefits of the meal.

One last note for the 'night owls'

You probably know if you’re a morning person or not, even before you read this post. If you find that you’re at your best later in the day, that’s fine - we’re not trying to change you!

If you’re wired to be at your most focused after dark, and prefer to get up late in the day, packing a full day in before 9:00 AM isn’t the thing that’s going to make you healthier. We all wake up at some point in the day, and you can still make use of the first two hours of your day and focus on being healthier regardless of the time of morning you get up.

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Last updated: 9 January 2018