Some time ago, I heard a guest doctor on the amazing Health Theory (I can’t find the exact episode for the life of me) suggest a morning walk for a good night’s sleep. According to the doctor, getting out into the natural light, preferably as soon as you get out of bed, will help wake you up in the morning and put you to sleep in the evening. I started the next day without looking too deep into it (it can’t hurt, right?) and have been doing it religiously for months. In the meantime, I have collected some points from research on that subject, as well as from my own experience. Here they are…
Natural Light Regulates Sleep-Wake Cycle
This is the main point of a morning walk: when you expose your skin to natural light, you kick start body’s natural process of reducing melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone secreted at night by a small gland in your brain to make you fall asleep. Come morning, melatonin clears our of your system, so that you can wake up and go about your business.
Why would you need to go out if melatonin goes away in the morning anyway? Well, humans have evolved to live in the nature. In the nature, our brain knows when it has gotten dark: the receptors in our eyes and skin pass that information. The brain then produces melatonin, which puts us to sleep. Similarly, when the sun rises, our brain gets the memo and makes melatonin levels sink so that we can wake up.
Now it gets obvious: humans have lived in the nature far longer than in apartments with artificial lights and blinds, like they do now. We simply haven’t adapted to these new settings. To help your brain know it is light outside, go out of you house or apartment. You will wake up more easily and feel energized throughout the day.
Walking Burns Calories
Depending on your weight, you can burn 100-300 calories with a brisk 30-minute walk. How to do a brisk walk? Basically, walk fast enough to increase your heart rate a bit. You’ll know when it happens.
If you are trying to lose weight, this means that with a 30 minute walk, you can make a caloric deficit of 150 calories, which eventually leads to weight loss. If you are not trying to lose weight, this means that you can eat an extra 150-calorie snack!
Let’s talk weight loss. If 30 minutes of walking burns about 150 calories, one hour of walking burns around 300 calories. To put that into perspective: if you consume the referential 2000 calories a day, one hour of walking is a 300 / 2000 = 0.15 = 15% caloric deficit. This is enough to lead to a healthy and gradual wight loss. Just like that. That’s a walk in the park! Pun intended. The added benefit of walking one hour instead of 30 minutes is that in the first 30 minutes you are burning sugar from your blood, and in the second 30 minutes you should be burning stored fat.
Movement Accelerates Metabolism
We all want a healthy and fast metabolism, but how do we attain it? By standing up for longer periods of time, drinking plenty of fluids and moderate amounts of coffee, exercising, and many more. The formula can be really simple: get up, drink 2 glasses of water, go for a walk around the neighborhood, follow that with a cup of coffee and your bowels will do the happy dance.
I recommend doing all of this before breakfast, but have in mind the concerns about drinking coffee on an empty stomach. It is believed that it can damage your gut lining, make you feel jittery and anxious, etc. If you feel any negative side effects, have your breakfast before the coffee. If you feel fine, do as you like.
Walking Improves Lymph Circulation
The lymphatic system is so important for your immunity, that, if you lost it, you would be dead within a day! Let that sink in…
Other than protecting you from bacteria and other foreign bodies, the lymphatic system helps absorb fats and fat-soluble nutrients and maintains fluid balance in your body. The lymph travels through your body through a network of vessels and nodes, similarly to blood itself. But, unlike blood, lymph does not travel through your body thanks to a pump (heart) but relies on movement of your muscles to move it around.
So, get your muscles moving to get your lymph flowing, to get rid of those pathogens and absorb those vitamins!
Morning Drives Mindfulness
Going for a walk as soon as it dawns is one of my favorite things to do. The trees and buildings, which I see on my way to work, look completely different when they are bathing in the first rays of sunlight. If it is early enough, there are hardly any people outside. Traffic is almost non-existent and there is nothing to get on my nerves. I am alone and at peace. It’s like heaven.
One more thing that I have noticed: going for a walk just for the sake of walking has a much more calming effect than walking toward a destination. Some special moments of clarity and mindfulness occur through the fact that I have nowhere in particular to go. I can just appreciate the sunrise, the city, the nature, the birds chirping their good-mornings…
In my experience, a morning walk will grant you some quality time with yourself. If you don’t feel like spending time with your thoughts, you can listen to some calming music or a good audio book.
Walking, this simple activity, can prepare you for the day ahead like nothing else. It’s quick, it’s easy and it’s free. It can, by no means, hurt you, so why not try it tomorrow morning? And the morning after. And the morning after… Let me know how it affects you!