Tony Nuñez, Ph.D., associate professor of Exercise Science at Denver’s Metropolitan State University, and naturopathic physicians Brandi Moore and Paris Prestridge in MSU Denver’s Integrative Health Care program recommend best practices for sustained energy and mental well-being.
Light to moderate routine exercise and stretching can help rev up your body’s systems and will have stimulant effects similar to those of caffeine, Nuñez said. Be sure to drink water and eat before exercising, Nuñez added, saying that exercising in the morning is preferable to exercising in the evening because it can help your body regulate everything it takes in during the day.
“Large joints like shoulders and hips are important for stretching,” Nuñez said. “Do not (immediately) go into full motion, because the body is very tight upon awakening. Take a hot shower to help mobilize things.
He also suggests avoiding putting your head below your heart when you stretch in the morning, as this can cause blood pressure changes that can make you feel light-headed or have a head bump.
Limit coffee intake to one cup
Before reaching for coffee, drink a glass of water after waking up, Prestridge said. Then don’t drink too much coffee, she added, because large amounts of caffeine can make you jittery and then collapse.
“I try to get people to stick to one cup,” Moore said. “Often there is a vicious cycle between being low on energy and cravings due to an imbalance of cortisol (stress hormone), causing them to reach for another cup when your adrenal glands (glands) should really just rest.”
To combat the mid-afternoon slump, which is a normal part of the human circadian process, Prestridge said, try green tea instead of coffee in the afternoon, because the caffeine content is minimal.
Use herbs and supplements
Instead of or in addition to coffee, Prestridge recommends adding herbs like rhodiola and ashwagandha to your morning routine to support adrenal glands and manage energy levels. Rhodiola and Ashwagandha have been shown to increase energy and stamina and help reduce stress and anxiety. Moore also recommends the herb/berry schisandra, an adaptogen that mimics the body’s resistance to stressors.
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Avoid your phone
Avoid social media first thing in the morning, as it can lead to a deteriorating mood for your day, Prestridge said. Moore recommended not looking at your phone until you’ve done your morning routine and doing meditation and breathing exercises to minimize stress levels.
“How you start your day with your first dopamine hit is how you want to keep getting your dopamine hits throughout the day,” Moore said. “Social media use has been shown to increase dopamine levels in the same way a drug does.”
Eat unsaturated fats and protein foods
Foods that are part of a typical American breakfast, such as sugary cereals, bagels, and donuts, will spike your blood sugar and cause you to crash mid-morning. Prestridge recommends eating good fats and protein, such as avocados, nuts and nut butters, whole-wheat toast, eggs, plain Greek yogurt, and cottage cheese. Foods containing omega-3s and fiber are great selections to start the day, she said.
To go outside
Exposure to sunlight in the morning helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle, Moore said, noting that it’s easier to wake up earlier in the summer months than in the winter. Opening blinds or taking a short walk outdoors can have a huge impact on your morning because it helps regulate cortisol levels, she added.
For parents with kids, Moore recommends waking up earlier than them so you can complete your morning routine and have more energy for them throughout the day.
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Prioritize a good night’s sleep
A nighttime routine that ensures a good night’s sleep is where the morning routine begins, Prestridge said. Nuñez agreed that the night should be set aside for unwinding, saying most people shouldn’t exercise intensely before going to bed — give the body plenty of time to stabilize itself after a workout.
“Going to sleep too late affects your sleep the next day and the next night, and so on,” said Moore. “So it’s going to be a cycle that’s hard to break.”