“The unexamined life is not worth living,” said Socrates. But the over-examined life is not much fun, either. The modern cult of productivity, constantly striving to achieve more in increasingly limited time, can all seem a bit much. Much like when a LinkedIn user recently posted his obsessively optimised morning routine to much social mediabewilderment: “5.30am: wake up, get dressed, walk to the gym… 7.20am: cook four egg whites and blend up a smoothie with vegan protein. 7.45am: rotate between Headspace for meditation or commit to language learning on Duolingo. 8.05am: drink 1 litre of water.”
There’s nothing wrong with spending 20 minutes a day meditating on Headspace or learning languages on Duolingo, of course. But 24/7 productivity is merely a faster track to burnout. Sometimes, we just need to disengage the brain and binge on Mindhunter. And, as that other noted – albeit fictional – philosopher Tyler Durden said, “Self-improvement is masturbation.” MR PORTER has therefore devised a more achievable morning routine that will make you function better, but not sound like a bore.
“Your circadian rhythm is set by your routine and light exposure, and depends almost entirely on your consistent bedtime,” explains Dr Steve Ingham, author of How To Support A Champion (he’s worked with Sirs Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent and Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill, among others), and director of Supporting Champions, a performance consultancy for companies and athletes alike. Zombified? Try retiring earlier (the National Sleep Foundation’s sweet-dreams spot is seven to nine hours per night), plus switching off screens at least 90 minutes before, shunning caffeine or alcohol for three hours prior to bedtime and cooling your bedroom.
Awash as we are with old marketeers’ tales designed to sell more bottled drinks, it’s all too easy to over-hydrate and piss like a drunk racehorse. “That’s the technical term for when your blood osmolality or concentration decreases, ie your blood has more water in it,” says Dr Ingham. “You then suppress your anti-diuretic – or anti-water losing – hormone in order to get rid of it.” Fluid needs fluctuate according to individual size, activity level and atmospheric temperature, but Harvard Medical School suggests drinking four to six 235ml cups per day (including coffee, tea et al), so maybe tick off one of those first thing. Sip, don’t neck, and if your urine is clear, you’re golden.
The early gym rat benefits from more growth hormone, testosterone and fat-burning. And there are mental upsides, too: you’ll feel sharper when you hit your desk, and fall asleep faster when you hit the hay. “You’ll cope with stress better throughout the day if you’ve exercised in the morning,” adds Dr Ingham. But don’t sweat it if you can’t work out before work: there are pros to training at any point. “For example, exercising at lunch can make your afternoon more productive, by untangling some of the morning overload,” continues Dr Ingham. “And you’re at your physical peak in late afternoon and early evening, when your body is warmest.”
Tapping the Headspace app on your phone before the inbox icon is a very good call. “Meditation and its accompanying breathing techniques are some of the only major ways of controlling your sympathetic nervous system and overriding the psychosomatic stress response,” says Dr Ingham. “Breathing control has a powerful effect on cardiac refilling and so in turn will slow the heart rate, reduce blood pressure and stem adrenaline outflow, which will serve as a positive reinforcement loop to calm your physiology and psychology.” Many studies recommend 20 minutes a day, but even short bursts can counter acutely stressful events; a five-minute walk, even more so.
Freezing your pecs off is one of the coolest things among healthistas; as Mr Scott Carney recounts in his book What Doesn’t Kill Us, studies suggest that turning the cold tap of your shower to full for just 30 seconds could boost metabolism, recovery, immunity, mood and even productivity (either because you’re primed to overcome challenges, or just less inclined to linger.) But Dr Ingham pours cold water on the idea: “The health benefits of this are questionable – other than it giving you something to boast about and being mighty character-building.” If nothing else, just make sure your shower isn’t too hot, which will dry your skin out.
For every study that advocates omitting the first meal of the day, another points to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. “No question, a good breakfast confers benefits to health and productivity,” declares Dr Ingham. “The increase in fat-burning from skipping breakfast is only really significant if you’re also exercising, and you can get a similar effect from protein-based breakfasts.” Like, say, eggs, and whole ones at that – their cholesterol-raising rep is overstated. (NB: Harvard School of Public Health suggests you can eat one egg a day, so scramble up your menu.) Life is too short to waste time separating yolks.