Cloud Cloud The Perfect Day

The Perfect Day

The Perfect Day

Every day, we're confronted with a thousand choices that can impact our health. But decision fatigue can increase stress and zap motivation. So we enlisted the best researchers in the country to design the perfect day.

Start your day
Rise and Shine!

Rise and Shine!

Nobody likes being jolted from sleep by a blaring alarm. We’re meant to wake up with the sun, but that’s not always practical during the shortest days of the year. Instead, try using an alarm clock that gradually illuminates, mimicking sunrise. If that’s not enough to rouse you, program it to emit soothing sounds like forest birds or crashing waves.

Relax

Relaaaaax

Meditation decreases stress and sharpens focus. Best of all? You can reap the benefits in just 10 minutes. Sit in a quiet place, choose a word or phrase to act as your mantra (like “relax”), close your eyes and take several deep breaths, then breathe normally and repeat your mantra in your head. Your mind will drift. That’s OK. Note the drift and return to your mantra.

Eat a Balanced Breakfast
Tip
Skip the Morning Shower

Skip the Morning Shower

Most people bathe too often, which can lead to dry and cracked skin, increasing your susceptibility to infection. Don’t worry, you’ll shower later, after your workout. But do put some sunscreen on your face, even in winter.

Drink Coffee No. 1

Drink Coffee No. 1

Not only does caffeine improve reaction time and decrease muscle soreness after a tough workout, but it can also lower your chance of many cancers and certain heart problems. What’s more, you get to drink a lot of it. A 2004 study showed that ingesting about a cup of coffee every three to four hours is best for optimal performance.

Eat a Balanced Breakfast

For athletes, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Researchers at Loughborough University found that cyclists’ performance in a 30-minute afternoon time trial was 4.5 percent worse when they skipped breakfast, even though they ate about 200 calories more at lunch.

Get Moving

Get Moving

Walk to work. Or even better, ride your bike—surveys show that bike commuters are happier than their walking and carpooling coworkers. Whatever you do, try to get a little sunshine into your morning. It has several health benefits, from increasing serotonin levels, which makes you more active and alert, to boosting vitamin D, which keeps your immune system strong.

Start Working

Start Working

People tend to be more productive earlier in the day, especially when it comes to problem-solving. Skip the email and Web browsing. Instead, tick off your most important tasks first, when you’re still mentally fresh.

Have a Snack

Smaller, more frequent meals prevent big spikes and dips in blood-sugar levels. Refueling every few hours will also help you avoid food coma.

Take a Break—And Drink Coffee No. 2

Take a Break—And Drink Coffee No. 2

It’s easy to sit at your desk all day, but it’s not smart. K. Anders Ericsson, the professor who’s best known for the 10,000 Hours Rule, also found that “working in 90—minute intervals turns out to be a prescription for maximizing productivity.” That follows research showing that we progress from a state of alertness to fatigue approximately every 90 minutes. A 20-minute break is sufficient to reset.

Check Email
Have Another Snack

Have ­a Snack

Take a Break and Visualize

Take a Break and Visualize

A close relative of meditation, visualization is used by all-star athletes and Fortune 500 executives, who credit the technique with helping them execute difficult tasks. Just close your eyes and imagine yourself nailing that presentation, golf swing, job interview, or whatever it is you need to focus on. When it comes time for the actual task, you’ll be ready and perform better.

Eat Lunch

Eat Lunch

Think of it as more of a hearty snack, and use the opportunity to take a longer break. This is a good time to check Instagram. When you're done, use the time to walk around the neighborhood or lunch with your coworkers: a Cornell University study showed that employees who eat together are more effective collaborators. As for the meal, make sure you get enough carbs to fuel your after-work training. A turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread with a piece of fruit is a good option.

Drink some Green Tea

Drink Some Green Tea

To keep you from tossing and turning later, replace your afternoon coffee with green tea. It’s got about 30 milligrams of caffeine (compared to 95 for a cup of Joe) and has been shown to slightly increase metabolism and reduce cholesterol. And while you’re at it, do 25 push-ups.

Take a Break and Call Your Mom

Take a Break and Call Your Mom

Maybe not every day, but a recent study in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that people who received help from their loved ones in the form of advice or emotional support were more satisfied with their lives than those who didn’t.

Check Email and Write a To-do List for Tomorrow

Check Email and Write a To-do List for Tomorrow

Your list should consist of small, achievable tasks that get you closer to a larger goal. For example, don’t put down “write presentation” if that can’t be entirely accomplished on the following day. Instead put “write part one of presentation.” And emphasize what will be your most important tasks, so your first hour of work in the morning is as productive as possible.

Exercise

Exercise

Research favors afternoon or early-evening workouts, in large part because core body temperature is higher and muscles and joints are warmer and more prepared for activity and exertion. A 2009 study published in the journal Chronobiology International found that cyclists who rode at 6 p.m. recorded better power output than if they rode at 6 a.m.

Recharge

You don’t have to be logging Olympic-caliber workouts to benefit from recovery. Start with heat therapy, which increases natural growth hormones and decreases the stress hormone cortisol. It also raises the oxygen capacity of your blood, which allows for faster recovery and better performance. Simply spend 15 to 30 minutes in a regular sauna, a steam room, or even a warm bath.

Shower

Shower

Rinsing under cold water for three minutes, followed by three minutes under warm water, continues the recovery process. The contrast in temperature causes dilation of your blood vessels, which stops muscle inflammation.

Eat Dinner and Unwind

Eat Dinner and Unwind

With your family. No TV, no devices. A 2015 Journal of Marriage and Family study showed that quality time—reading to your kids, playing games—is far more important than quantity.

Tip
Drink Up

Drink Up

According to Matt Barnes, who researches the effects of alcohol on fitness at Massey University in New Zealand, a 154-pound man can have three and a half drinks and not affect exercise recovery. But that much alcohol can wreak havoc on your sleep. A single glass of wine won’t hurt. And moderate wine drinkers live longer, have fewer heart attacks, and stay sharper into old age.

Stay informed

Stay informed

Subscribing to a couple of newsletters will keep you up on current events without drowning you in information. Our favorites: The Daily Skimm, Quartz’s Daily Brief, and, of course, Outside Online’s What You Missed.

Turn Off the Screens

The blue light emitted from your devices—including your TV—prevents you from producing melatonin, the hormone that helps make you sleepy.

Go to Bed

Go to Bed

Turning in early ensures you get adequate sleep, which is crucial for everything from learning and memory to mood and judgment. Aim for seven or eight hours.

Tip

Call It Active Recovery

It's not a perfect day without sex. Paul Kelley, a clinical research associate at Oxford University's Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, breaks down when you should be getting busy by age.

  • Twenties: 3 p.m. Twentysomethings will have sex whenever. But Kelley's research shows that their libidos peak in early afternoon.
  • Thirties: 8:20 a.m. Your circadian rhythms shift, causing you to wake up earlier. In turn, early sunlight seems to boost testosterone in both men and women.
  • Forties and fifties: 10:20 p.m. Kelley recommends that couples get to it after ten, when the chaos of the day has subsided.
30 ways to be a better person every day

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Main Image: Arthur Chang

All Other Images: Michael Karsh

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