Are Morning Walks Good For You?
Tracee Herbaugh, a writer and journalist in the Boston area, wanted to shake up her morning routine. So, after dropping off her children at the bus stop, Tracee decided to walk in her neighborhood, even on cold and blustery mornings. Tracee said she chose to walk early in the day because “coffee had lost its power” and the “doldrums of winter” left her “too tired for the gym in the morning.”
Tracee said she has always walked, but not necessarily in the early part of the day. Now, she starts her day by walking for 4 miles, and the results of her morning routine, Tracee said, have been “nearly immediate.”
“I now have more energy, time, and footsteps logged onto my fitness tracker (if I remembered to put it on),” Tracee wrote in an article for Reviewed. And, that’s not all, Tracee said she sleeps better and wakes up easier.
Many people struggle to wake up in the morning and they get their day going with the help of a cup or two of coffee. So for those individuals, getting out of bed and going for a morning walk—especially on cold days—is pretty much out of the question.
Yet, health experts say that exercising in the morning is beneficial. For one, there are fewer activities scheduled in the morning that would interfere with an in-door workout or a walk outside. In addition, fewer morning activities make it easier to exercise on a consistent basis. As a result, people can turn their intentions to exercise into an actual habit of exercising.
Exercising in the morning also helps with weight management. The 2019 Midwest Exercise Trial 2 study found that people who exercise in the morning lost more weight than people who do the same workouts later in the day. Data showed the time of day that people exercised might play a role in whether and to what extent people lost weight due to exercising, according to Dr. Erik Willis, an author of the study and a data analyst with the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The study was published in July 2019 in The International Journal of Obesity.
To get substantial health benefits from walking and other forms of exercise, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, developed by the U.S. Health and Human Services, recommend adults do:
- 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity exercise or;
- 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination.
Studies show that walking on a regular basis yields health benefits, such as improving cardiovascular health, reducing blood pressure, and strengthening bones and muscles.
Walking Promotes Mental Health
There is also evidence that walking helps to reduce stress, tension, and depression, and improves mood, according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA). This is due to the fact that walking releases endorphins, a chemical in the brain that regulates emotions, and decreases sensitivity to stress and pain.
The ADAA also reported that psychologists who study the impact of exercise on anxiety and depression suggest that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout. To illustrate this point, a research team in a 2015 study found that people who took a 90-minute walk in a natural setting reported a decrease in rumination (repeating negative thoughts about oneself). Researchers also saw reduced neural activity in the area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness, according to the article published June 29, 2015, in the journal, PNAS.
Walking also boosts the body’s intake of vitamin D, an essential nutrient that is often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin.” Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to depression.
The body makes victim D when it is exposed to the sun, which is one of the best sources of vitamin D. The body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium and build strong bones and muscles and strengthens the immune system.
Walk More, Sleep Better
Having trouble sleeping at night? Then go for a walk in the morning. Scientific research confirms that walking, as well as other forms of exercise, helps you to sleep better at night. A study, published in the journal Sleep, found that postmenopausal women who exercised for about three-and-a-half hours a week had an easier time falling asleep than women who exercised less often.
Another study, published in the journal, Sleep Health, involved 59 adults participating in a 4-week walking intervention. Researchers found that walking improved the sleep quality of adults who were already getting seven hours of sleep.
Exercise impacts sleep because it increases the effect of melatonin, a hormone that is the central part of the body’s sleep-wake cycle. The production of melatonin, also called the “sleep hormone,” increases soon after it gets dark and regulates the circadian rhythm, the body’s internal 24-hour clock.
How To Get Started Walking
The great thing about walking is that you can start walking at any time, assuming that you do not have problems with mobility. You can start in your neighborhood, in a park, or in a gym with a walking track. Tracee Herbaugh says that wearing athletic clothing for a walk isn’t really necessary. But, in a region like New England, which has unpredictable weather, you might want to consider wearing layered clothing.
According to Sam Iannetta, a corrective exercise specialist and owner of Functional Fitness, located in Boulder, Colorado, getting the high-density oxygen, which is often cooler in temperature in the early morning, can be as valuable as accomplishing something.
“This is an active decision to engage in the world, break the sleep cycle,” Iannetta says. “You’re accomplishing something right off the bat and it helps with self-esteem.”