Health Benefits of a Morning Walk

Written by: Pard Bharaj



Time to read 10 min

‚ÄúIf you are in a bad mood, go for a walk. If you are still in a bad mood, go for another walk‚ÄĚ



Many of our readers are likely aware of the numerous health benefits that walking provides. It's a powerhouse activity known for enhancing heart and brain function, boosting blood circulation, and strengthening and toning your legs. But this article dives into a particular aspect of walking‚ÄĒits benefits in the early hours of the day.¬†

During the lockdown, when there was not much to do, I found solace in morning walks, especially those that took me through nature. They were instrumental in helping me keep a good balance especially mentally. Personally, investing 30 to 60 minutes for a walk each morning before the day begins has been very important for me. It kicks off a cascade of health benefits, which I will write more about in this article.

The Science Behind Morning Walks:

As dawn breaks and you set out on your morning walk, your body undergoes a series of physiological transformations. Initially, your heart rate picks up from its resting pace as your blood starts pumping more to deliver oxygen to your muscles. Breathing deepens, and your lungs work harder to oxygenate this increased blood flow.

Simultaneously, as you move, your joints loosen up, reducing stiffness. The production of synovial fluid increases, providing lubrication that eases your movements. On the cellular level, mitochondria, which are the powerhouses of the cells, ramp up energy production to meet the heightened demand.

Your endocrine system starts to release endorphins, often referred to as 'feel-good' hormones, which elevate your mood and act as natural painkillers. The cortisol levels, which are typically higher in the morning, begin to stabilise, aiding in stress management.

As your walk progresses, you enter a state of heightened calorie burning, which not only aids in weight management but also helps regulate blood sugar levels. The longer you walk, the more pronounced these effects become, setting a robust tone for the rest of the day.

Let's delve a little deeper into the Benefits of a Morning Walk.

Walking - Key Statistics:

Before we explore the benefits of a morning walk, here are some key statistics in regards to the benefits of walking including the scientific studies.

  • Increase‚Äôs Brain Size and Improves Memory:¬†In the 2011 study "Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory" by Kirk I. Erickson and others, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), it was found that aerobic exercise training significantly increases hippocampal volume and improves memory in older adults, highlighting the brain's plasticity and the neuroprotective effects of physical activity. ¬†The results showed an increase in volume of the left and right hippocampus by 2.12% and 1.97%, respectively, over a one-year period.
  • Prevention of Early Death and Diseases:¬†This study published in the¬†British Journal of Sports Medicine¬†with research conducted by a team from the University of Cambridge found that if everyone managed at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, around 16% of early deaths, 11% of cardiovascular disease cases, and 5% of cancer cases could be prevented. Even with just 75 minutes per week, 10% of early deaths, 5% of cardiovascular disease cases, and nearly 3% of cancer cases could be prevented.
  • Specific Cancer Risks: A study conducted by the¬†University of Cambridge¬†also found that for certain cancers like head and neck, myeloid leukemia, myeloma, and gastric cardia cancers, the risk reduction was between 14-26%. For others like lung, liver, endometrial, colon, and breast cancer, the risk was reduced by 3-11%.
  • Recommended Steps:¬†The study from the¬†European Journal of Preventive Cardiology¬†found that walking at least 3,967 steps a day reduces the risk of dying from any cause, and walking 2,337 steps a day lowers the risk of dying from cardiovascular diseases, with every additional 1,000 steps per day further decreasing the risk of all-cause mortality by 15% and 500 extra steps per day reducing cardiovascular mortality by 7%. Other studies, such as this article titled "Walking for Exercise‚ÄĚ published in the Harvard School of Public Health, mentioned that 10,000 steps is a magic number to reach for.

 The image is a panoramic view of a sunrise over the ocean. The sun is just above the horizon, casting a vibrant path of reflected light across the water

7 Benefits of Walking in the Morning:

1. Better Mood:  

Embarking on a morning walk initiates a cascade of biochemical processes that enhance your mood. One of the primary agents of this change is the release of endorphins. These are hormones that, once released during physical activity, produce an analgesic effect‚ÄĒrelieving pain and producing a sense of well-being. The feeling is often likened to a natural 'high', lifting your spirits as you step through the morning.

Simultaneously, walking activates the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin in the brain. These are chemicals associated with feelings of happiness and pleasure. They play a crucial role in mood regulation; low levels are often linked with depression. By walking, you’re essentially encouraging your brain to flood your system with these mood-boosting chemicals.

Furthermore, the rhythmic nature of walking can be meditative, providing psychological benefits that contribute to a better mood. The repetitive action of stepping can serve as a form of moving meditation, promoting relaxation and stress reduction. This can lead to a significant mood improvement, even before the day fully begins. I always try to focus on my steps or my surroundings to stop my mind from wandering when I’m walking.

2. Natural Light Regulates the Circadian Rhythm and Improves Sleep: 

Exposure to natural light, especially in the morning, is pivotal in synchronising our circadian rhythms. When our eyes perceive natural light, it signals the brain's suprachiasmatic nucleus, located in the hypothalamus, which is the control center for our circadian rhythms. 

This light exposure triggers the brain to reduce the production of melatonin, the hormone that induces sleepiness, and increases the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with wakefulness and a positive mood.

This adjustment helps align our sleep-wake cycle with the external environment. Regular exposure to morning light can lead to more consistent wake and sleep times, improving overall sleep quality. Better sleep not only enhances mood and cognitive function but also has a positive impact on physical health, including improved immune function and reduced risk for certain chronic diseases.

3. Enhanced  Mental Clarity and Focus: 

Physiologically, a morning walk kick-starts your brain activity. As you exercise, increased circulation pumps more oxygen-rich blood to your brain. This surge in oxygen and nutrients is crucial for the optimal functioning of your brain cells. It stimulates neural activity and promotes the release of various neurotransmitters and hormones that enhance cognitive functions.

One of the key hormones released during exercise is norepinephrine, which plays a vital role in heightening alertness and arousal. This leads to improved concentration and a sharper focus, helping you to start your day with a clear and active mind.

Furthermore, walking, particularly in a natural setting, can reduce mental fatigue and replenish cognitive resources. This results in a state of mental clarity, where thoughts and ideas seem more accessible and organised.

4. Increased Energy and Productivity: 

Morning walks boost energy and productivity by enhancing cardiovascular efficiency, leading to improved blood circulation. This activity ensures more oxygen and nutrients are transported to muscles and organs, thereby elevating energy levels. Additionally, the act of walking increases the release of hormones like endorphins and serotonin, which enhance energy. This combination of physical and mental stimulation from a morning walk prepares the body and mind for a more energetic and productive day.

5. Burns Calories and Aid in Weight Loss: Increased Metabolism: 

When you engage in a morning walk, your body's metabolic rate gets a significant boost. This heightened metabolism means that your body starts to burn calories at a faster rate, not just during the walk but also continuing throughout the day.

The increase in your metabolic rate from a morning walk enhances your body's ability to digest food more efficiently. As a result, the nutrients from the food you eat are absorbed better, and excess calories are more likely to be converted into energy rather than being stored as fat.  Moreover, regular morning walks help in building lean muscle mass, which plays a vital role in accelerating your metabolism. Muscle tissue burns more calories than fat tissue, even when at rest

6. Stronger Immune System: 

Stronger Immune System" is a significant health benefit of morning walks, largely attributed to the exposure to sunlight. Even on cloudy days, the natural light outdoors contributes to the body's synthesis of Vitamin D. This vitamin plays a pivotal role in fortifying the immune system.

Vitamin D, often referred to as the 'sunshine vitamin', is essential for maintaining a healthy immune response. It regulates and strengthens the immune system, helping the body to fight off pathogens and reduce the risk of infections. Adequate levels of Vitamin D are associated with a lower incidence of autoimmune diseases and an improved overall immune function.

7. Can Help Lower Your Blood Sugar : 

Walking after meals, especially short walks, can be effective in controlling blood sugar levels.

This study¬†demonstrated that a 15-minute walk taken after each main meal ‚Äď breakfast, lunch, and dinner ‚Äď can have a more significant impact on regulating blood sugar levels compared to a single 45-minute walk taken at another time of the day. This is because walking post-meal helps in clearing glucose from the bloodstream, as muscles use the glucose for energy during physical activity.

When you walk after eating, your body processes the glucose in your meal more efficiently. This activity stimulates the muscles to absorb glucose and use it for energy, leading to a decrease in blood sugar levels.

The image captures a tranquil and ethereal morning scene in a natural setting. A large, sprawling tree with a distinctive curved branch dominates the foreground, its leaves bathed in the soft, golden light of the morning sun. The sun

What are the Benefits of Walking in Nature?

Where possible I do as much walking as I can in¬†natural surroundings. Here are some key advantages to ‚Äúgreen exercise‚ÄĚ. ¬†

  • Reduced Stress and Improved Mental Health:¬†Natural settings have a calming effect, helping to reduce stress and anxiety. Exposure to nature has been linked to lower cortisol levels, a hormone associated with stress.
  • Enhanced Mood:¬†Being in nature can elevate mood and combat feelings of depression. The serene environment, fresh air, and natural sounds work together to enhance psychological well-being.
  • Increased Attention and Cognitive Function:¬†Nature walks can improve focus and cognitive abilities. The peaceful environment allows for mental rejuvenation, helping to restore attention and memory functions.
  • Boost in Creativity: Spending time in nature can enhance creative problem-solving and increase the capacity for creative thinking.
  • Improved Physical Health: In addition to the general benefits of walking, natural terrains like uneven ground or inclines can provide a more varied and challenging physical workout.
  • Enhanced Immune Function:¬†Regular exposure to natural environments can boost the immune system, partly due to phytoncides ‚Äď natural oils within plants, which have antimicrobial properties.
  • Social Benefits: Walking in nature often provides opportunities for social interaction and community building, whether it's with walking groups or casual encounters along the trail. I have found people to be more open to a conversation early in the mornings.
  • Connection with Nature: Regular walks in natural settings can foster a deeper connection with the environment, promoting a sense of peace and belonging.
  • Reduced Noise and Air Pollution: Natural settings are typically quieter and have cleaner air compared to urban environments, which is beneficial for both mental and respiratory health.

These benefits have been scientifically proved by well respected research bodies, readers maybe interested in reviewing the following publications:

"In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks"

John Muir

Tips for Incorporating Morning Walks: 

  • Start Gradually:¬†Begin with short, 10-15 minute walks and gradually increase the duration.
  • Prepare the Night Before: Lay out your walking gear, including your shoes, the night before.
  • Choose the Right Footwear:¬†Opt for shoes with good arch support, cushioning, and made from breathable material. Ensure they fit well, offering comfort without being too tight.
  • Set a Consistent Time:¬†Walk at the same time each morning to establish a routine.
  • Find a Walking Buddy: A friend or family member can make walking more enjoyable.
  • Choose Varied Routes: Explore different paths or neighborhoods to keep walks interesting. ¬†This is also good for¬†Neuroplasticity.
  • Track Your Progress:¬†Use a fitness tracker or app to monitor your walks.
  • Stay Hydrated:¬†Drink water before and after your walk.
  • Be Mindful of Safety: Wear reflective clothing if walking in the dark and choose safe routes.
  • Gentle Stretching:¬† Do some gentle stretching after you finish.

Final Thoughts: 

I want to emphasise the profound impact this simple habit has had on my life. From the invigorating burst of energy it provides to start my day, to the subtle yet significant improvement in my overall health, the journey of incorporating morning walks into my daily routine has been transformative. 

It's not just about the physical benefits; it's also about the mental clarity, the moments of tranquility amidst nature, and the satisfaction of knowing I'm doing something beneficial for my body and mind. I encourage readers to step out the door in the early morning hours. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can I Motivate Myself to Start a Morning Walk Routine?

Start by setting small, achievable goals and gradually increase the duration and intensity of your walks. Remind yourself of the benefits, track your progress, and consider finding a walking buddy or joining a walking group for social motivation.

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Image of Pard, the Author

Author: Pard Bharaj

I am a dedicated researcher with nearly a decade of experience in investigating health best practices. My journey in the health and wellness field has been driven by a passion for understanding and sharing the most effective ways to maintain and improve health. Over the years, I have delved into a wide range of topics, constantly seeking out the latest research and insights. My commitment is to provide well-researched, accurate, and trustworthy information to help readers make informed decisions about their health.

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