The Top 5 Reasons Why a Morning Walking Ritual Will Improve Your Life
By the end of this article, you’ll understand the top five health reasons why a morning walking ritual may just be the best gift you can give yourself.
When you kick off any sort of health caper you start off thinking it’s all about the food. Stop eating processed shizzle. Eat more vegetables. Make sure it’s quality fats. Cut out the dairy. Eliminate the sugar. Remove all grains…
It doesn’t matter if it’s the Autoimmune Protocol, Paleo, Keto, Weight Watchers (god forbid!), or wanting to become a healthy old person. Nup. All of them have one thing in common. They focus on what you put in your mouth.
But the foundation of any health caper isn’t about that. It doesn’t start with food. It really doesn’t. Rather, it’s about changing the paradigm in your head about what’s most important to you.
It’s all about creating the space to prioritise your HEALTH.
When I first began my health caper, I thought it was all about changing my diet. It took me a very long time – I can be a slow learner sometimes – to work out that really it was about learning to create space for myself in amongst all the noise and crazy of day-to-day living.
My morning walking ritual is the #1 ritual in my ‘How to become a healthy old person’ toolbox. It sits in first place because it has been the catalyst for so much positive change in the way I navigate my way through this thing we call life, the choices we each make every day. It’s at the top of the pile because it is the way I create space all for myself at the beginning of each day to connect with what’s important to me.
And it just happens to be a great way to check off a whole bunch of other health-inducing ’stuff’ at the same time.
I’m all for doubling down on strategies and rituals that do that for me.
Sure. What you eat matters. Of course it does. But it doesn’t matter as much as prioritising your whole health. Consciously. Actively. Creating habits and rituals that support this. Because nobody will ever care about your health as much as you do.
And because until you create the space to do this, more than likely, you’ll just end up paying lip service to it. It’ll be that much harder to actually do anything that you stick to.
Change is hard.
This is why starting a morning walking ritual has the potential to improve your life in so many ways. Let us count the top 5…
Reason #1: Improved Mental Health
By mental health, I mean actual physical brain health as well as getting all your brain chemicals firing together in a way that improves your mood. Significantly. It’s proven. Science tells us so.
A morning walking ritual will improve your self-esteem, put you in a better mood, and actively calm your fajizzle by reducing stress and anxiety – all excellent benefits for your mental health.
I particularly love it because it gives me active time-out to think, reflect and clear my mind. It’s my daily moving meditation. But, while that’s happening, it also helps to release endorphins and serotonin, which are the body’s natural mood and self-esteem enhancers. A meta-analysis conducted in 2012 suggests regular walking can also be a great natural way to manage and prevent depression and anxiety.
Here’s how that works. Our brain’s amygdala is the area most closely linked to emotional reactions. It is a part of the limbic system, which controls how we react to frightening or stressful situations. According to one recent study, taking a one-hour nature walk lowers amygdala activity, improving one’s capacity to handle stress. The good news here is that if you live in a city, a stroll in a park may have a similar impact.
Walking has a number of excellent physical health benefits, but adding a morning walking ritual into your daily schedule can actually increase your brain function. Researchers have found walking increases the supply of blood to the brain. This is linked to improved cognitive function, memory, concentration and problem-solving.
Moderate exercises like walking, can increase your brain’s resistance to Alzheimer’s disease and reduce the effects of memory loss over time. One study of men aged between 71 to 93 found that walking more than a quarter-mile each day had brain benefits like fewer cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. A quarter mile! That’s less than half a kilometre for those of us on metric. There’s a good enough reason for me.
Reason #2: Better sleep
I actually started my early attempts at a morning walking ritual in an effort to improve my sleep. Back in the early 2000s, I had a home invasion and that event did a real number on my brain’s ability to relax at night. Fast forward a couple of decades and I now sleep very well. Consistently 7 ½ – 8 hours every night.
But I have worked at getting to this point. And my daily walk in the morning has been a game-changer.
Simply being an active person boosts the effects of melatonin (your natural sleep hormone) and helps you to fall asleep more easily. But, If you expose yourself to bright light shortly after waking in the morning, you will feel more alert during the day and fall asleep more easily at night.
And, when it comes to being a healthy old person, one of the very best things you can do is work on maximising the quality and quantity of your sleep.
You know that slightly hungover, brain-foggy feeling you get when you don’t get enough sleep? It’s because you’re not getting enough REM (or rapid eye movement) sleep and deep sleep for the brain to clear itself out. The majority of us should aim for between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night.
And, since I know how important sleep is to continued health, I want to do everything I can to ensure I get consistently the best sleep I can.
Reason # 3: Moving your body. Early.
I’m pretty sure I don’t need to tell you there are so many benefits to moving your body as you get older. You already know. That old adage of ‘use it or lose it’ is so appropriate when it comes to exercise. The real key here is to be active as frequently as possible, though – This is about more than spending an hour at the gym a couple of times each week. It’s super important to focus on moving often in your everyday life. A daily morning walking ritual gives you the opportunity to engage in physical activity every single day.
Lowering your blood pressure, improving blood (and lymph circulation), and reducing your risk of heart disease are all benefits of starting the day with a morning walk. The Heart Foundation says that walking for an average of 30 minutes a day can lower your risk of heart disease by 35%. Researchers found people who incorporate regular walking into their daily routine have fewer heart attacks and strokes.
Walking may be one of the simplest, cheapest and most accessible forms of physical activity around. It can help you lose or maintain a healthy weight. It can increase your body’s ability to respond to insulin and improve blood sugar control which helps to lower your risk of diabetes and even helps those with diabetes greater control.
And as we get older, maintaining good balance into advanced years is an indicator of health. Falling in older age can have serious consequences. Walking in the morning helps in building lower body strength, an important element of good balance.
If you are one of those people who finds it difficult to get out of bed in the mornings because you’re a bit stiff or achy, you may well find a morning walking ritual helpful in protecting your joints by lubricating and strengthening the muscles around the joints. As we age, chronic illnesses like arthritis can become more prevalent. Because walking is a low-impact activity on your joints, it can be a great way to relieve arthritis pain, stiffness and swelling.
And if that isn’t enough, a study out of Australia found that walking can have a significant role in increasing your energy levels. It helps in reducing fatigue, keeping you feeling energised throughout your day. This is certainly the case for me.
Reason #4: Building Your Community
Even introverts need to connect with others. We need our tribe to support us through all of life’s stuff. And studies have shown that when we don’t have a strong network, we age faster. People need people. There is an established correlation between the social support you receive from friendship and your immune system. A 2010 meta-analysis of 148 different research studies found that “people with stronger social relationships had a 50 per cent increased likelihood of survival than those with weaker social relationships.” 50% – That is HUMONGOUS!
Our need for socialization only grows over time, so cultivating that community connection while taking a morning constitutional is a good way to start. You know you have at least one thing in common!
Whether your morning walking ritual is around your neighbourhood park or along the beach in the it is an excellent opportunity to make friends, be social and be part of your local community.
And, if you are more extroverted than me, starting or becoming part of an organised morning walking group is a great way to meet like-minded people. Those health studies I referred to before have also found that outdoor walking groups also have wide-ranging health benefits that include reduced blood pressure, body fat, cholesterol levels and risk of depression and anxiety.
Reason #5: Getting out in nature
When you take a walk in nature, your physical and spiritual needs are covered all in one go! Frank Lloyd Wright once said that, “I believe in God, only I spell it NATURE.”. Whatever your chosen belief, getting out in nature has a profound effect on your health. It helps to lower your stress levels, improves your focus, and builds a more positive state of mind.
That sense of grounding and connecting with nature that you experience at the beach is known as ‘blue space’. If you’re more of a forest lover, it’s ‘green space’. These are what scientists have labelled the effect that the combination of soothing smells and sounds of water or trees have on your brain. Even if you are a complete urbanite, spending time in ‘blue or green space’ is enough to make you feel more relaxed.
And it’s not just in your head. Science says that it’s a change in the way your brain reacts to its environment leaving you feeling happy, relaxed and reenergized. It turns out that exposure to visible blue or green space is associated with lower psychological distress in city residents.