There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to starting your day ‘right’. Not least because we all have different commitments, but also because we each function differently; what works for me might not work for you.
I have friends who struggle to wake up before 10 am; they don’t start working until way into the afternoon, and frankly, they’re killing it! They’ve found what works for them, and when they’re most productive, so I’m not going to preach about the benefits of waking up at 6 am. Although that works for me, you feel free to do you.
This is for anyone who’s curious to learn about a few science-backed rituals that you could try on for size if you’re looking to start your day with a fresh mind and give yourself a better chance of achieving what you want to achieve in the day.
1. Beat Fatigue With a Little Beetroot
Drinking beetroot juice has been shown to enhance the performance and endurance of athletes due to the high levels of inorganic nitrate that it contains. Beetroot increases the levels of nitric oxide in the blood, which causes your blood vessels to dilate; it thereby improves blood flow around the body and increases the levels of oxygen reaching the muscles and the brain.
Having enough oxygen in the brain is crucial for brain function; in fact, the brain uses about 25% of your oxygen intake. Therefore, it probably won’t come as a surprise to you that the supply of highly concentrated oxygen has a positive effect on your cognitive processing capacity.
So, starting your day with a glass of beetroot juice, or incorporating it into a smoothie, is a great way to replenish your brain with a fresh batch of oxygen first thing in the morning. It can enhance your ability to concentrate, and increase your chances of working efficiently and productively throughout the day!
2. Practice Buteyko Nose Breathing
Talk about underrated — this simple habit is surprisingly effective for the purpose of improving circulation around the body and increasing levels of oxygen to the brain. I initially read about this during the covid-19 pandemic, when I came across several articles about the benefits of breathing in through the nose to reduce the chances of contracting diseases. But the Buteyko breathing method takes things one step further.
According to Dr. Konstantin Buteyko, in order to increase blood flow and oxygen delivery to the tissues, we need to slow down our breathing so that less oxygen enters our body. It’s during periods of air scarcity in the body that we notice a rise in body temperature, which indicates improved blood circulation.
It’s a similar method practiced by Yogis. At its core, there is a measurement called the Control Pause, which involves holding your breath following an exhalation. A control pause lower than 25 seconds is poor, one between 25–35 seconds indicates there’s room for improvement. The ultimate goal is to achieve a comfortable breath-hold time of 40 seconds.
Practicing the Buteyko Method could thereby be a great way to start improving your general health, and enhance blood circulation and oxygen flow around your body from the very start of the day.
3. Take a Cold Shower
Taking a cold shower first thing in the morning is something that I’ve been getting into myself. It’s a great way to make you feel alert first thing in the morning, because it increases your heart rate, your blood pressure, and your breathing rate. It can, therefore, improve your focus and enhance your productivity.
This is especially true since cold showers can have mood-boosting benefits; they activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase the levels of endorphins in your body, improving your chances of feeling happy, and thereby your chances of performing at your best.
Plus, as an added bonus, since your body has to work harder to maintain a stable temperature when you take a cold shower, there’s also a boost to your metabolism, and studies have shown that taking cold showers can improve your immunity.
4. Drink Lemon Water
Many people struggle to drink enough water throughout the day. Often, the explanation is as simple as not liking the flavor of water first thing in the morning. Adding a little lemon to give your glass of water some flavor can incentivize you to start your day on the right foot, with a hydrated mind.
Also, many of us inexplicably experience random periods throughout the year where we feel more tired and lethargic than usual. The culprit may well be anemia; you simply may not be absorbing enough iron from your food. Iron is needed to transport oxygen around the body, so low levels of iron mean low levels of oxygen reaching our vital organs and crucially, your brain. The vitamin C in lemons aids the absorption of iron, and could, therefore, be a good way to boost the level of oxygen reaching your brain and helping you concentrate.
Plus, vitamin C is known to reduce inflammation in the body, boost your immune system and contain powerful antioxidants that help you eliminate toxins from your body and detox your mind!
5. Practice Yoga
Practicing yoga has been linked to multiple benefits; it helps to correct posture, build strength, improve fitness, flexibility and mobility, and studies have even shown that yoga can decrease the secretion of cortisol, the primary stress hormone, which in turn reduces inflammation in the body and improves your overall health.
But in addition, just a few minutes of daily yoga practice can provide an energy boost. The unique combination of body and breath work awakens the main energy centers (the chakras) in your body. Poses that extend the spine, for example, enhance blood circulation around the body, and poses that open the chest, like the cobra pose, encourage the intake of more air and deeper breaths, thereby increasing the oxygen levels reaching your brain, helping you start your day feeling energized and increasing your ability to be productive.
6. Go For a Brisk Walk Outdoors
Kicking off your morning with a walk may give you more energy throughout the day, especially if you walk outdoors. One study even found that just 10 minutes of stair walking can increase energy levels more than one cup of coffee.
Plus, there are important physiological benefits to walking in the morning; it may help reduce stress, boost your mood, improve your self-esteem, reduce fatigue and ease anxiety, all of which serve to clear the mind and allow you to welcome the day with a fresh perspective.
The benefit of a good mood can go a long way towards improving your ability to focus and come up with your best ideas. But research also shows that walking opens up a free flow of ideas that can help you problem-solve better than you would if you had spent your morning sitting or remaining sedentary.
So if you’re looking to get your creative juices flowing, you might want to consider going for a morning walk outdoors. For best results, try walking for 20 to 30 minutes at least 5 days a week
7. Practice Mindful Meditation
Meditation is a habitual process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts to the present; it’s like weight-lifting for your attention span and helps to increase the strength and endurance of your attention. It can, therefore, help you concentrate on a task for longer, and even to better remember the details of your tasks; it may even reverse patterns in the brain that contribute to mind-wandering, poor attention, and worrying.
It’s an easy habit to try out for size, since one study found that just four days of practicing meditation is enough to increase your attention span!
Plus, mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce the inflammatory response caused by stress hormones in the body; it can help alleviate stress and anxiety and thereby diminish the associated effects like fatigue and cloudy thinking.
It may be unrealistic to incorporate every habit into your routine every day. I’ve tested them all, and I try to balance them out throughout my week. For example, drinking beetroot juice, lemon water, taking a cold shower, and practicing five minutes of Buteyko nose breathing and another five for mindful meditation, are all quick things I can fit in most, if not every morning. The others vary depending on what I’m doing each day.
But, frankly, your morning rituals shouldn’t be exhausting and intricate; nobody wants to kick off their day with a stressful morning. Oftentimes I simply don’t feel like taking a cold shower; there’s just no way. So as I mentioned earlier, these habits aren’t prescriptive. They’re mere suggestions that you can test out for size until you find what works best for you!