Health and wellness gurus love to talk about morning routines—and it makes sense. How you start your day surely has an impact on how you feel come lunchtime (and even bedtime!).
There’s no shortage of healthy ways you can choose to start your day, from sitting down for a guided meditation to quietly sipping your favorite tea to hitting the gym, but there’s one option that doesn’t often get the credit it deserves: the morning walk.
Getting out in the fresh air for an AM stroll not only comes with advantages for physical health, but can offer surprising mental health benefits, too. Ready to start each day off on the right foot? Here are five perks of a morning walk.
1. You’ll have More Energy For The Day Ahead
Though a walk feels gentle and perhaps less intimidating at the crack of dawn than a hardcore workout, it certainly does the job of waking you up. “Walking in the morning is proven to increase your energy throughout the day,” says sports and performance psychologist and certified fitness coach Dr. Haley Perlus, Ph.D. “More blood is pumped throughout your body when you walk—and blood flow is vital for your muscles, limbs, and organs.” Better blood flow means more nutrients and oxygen get circulated throughout your body, helping your entire system to fire on all cylinders.
Need more evidence that a walk will pump you up? A 2017 study found that just 10 minutes of stair walking was more effective for energizing sleep-deprived young women than a dose of caffeine.
2. It does your mind good
All that time working your legs and swinging your arms doesn’t just get your blood flowing—it can also cultivate a better, brighter mental outlook. “Endorphins are released during a walk, contributing to more positive self-esteem, a better mood, reduced stress, and reduced anxiety,” says Perlus. Your early sojourn could also improve focus—a major plus for your workday. According to Perlus, some people find a morning walk gets their creative juices flowing, which makes sense considering AM strolls have been shown to improve cognitive function.
Even without the sun’s rays, starting your day outside is still a good move, since a 2019 research review shows that spending time in a natural environment could provide pluses like increased emotional wellbeing, decreased mental distress, and a greater sense of meaning and purpose. Don’t mind if we do!
3. It might help you lose weight
While walking might not torch calories like an intense swim or run, it can definitely support your weight-loss goals. Thirty minutes of walking burns a respectable 150 calories, plus research shows that consistent morning exercise enhances weight management in adults with obesity and can reduce abdominal fat. One potential reason why: Exercising before breakfast increases fat oxidation (basically how much fat your body uses for energy) for 24 hours. According to Perlus, this happens because your body is in a fasted state after not eating all night, meaning it’s low in stored carbs and blood sugar to power your movement.
That said, if you can’t seem to roll out of bed for a walk every single morning, remember that activity at any time of day is better than none. “The best time of day to exercise is the time that aligns with your schedule, whether that’s the same time each day or not,” says intuitive eating coach and personal trainer Pam Moore, C.P.T. So if sometimes your morning walk turns into an evening walk, don’t sweat it.
4. you May sleep better later on
We tend to think of our bedtime ritual as having the most impact on a good night’s rest—but our morning habits can result in better Zs as well. A daily walk in the AM air sets you up for better sleep in several ways.
For starters, the vitamin D you’ll rack up on an outdoor walk is a boon to your nighttime shut-eye, as higher vitamin D status is correlated with a lower likelihood of sleep disorders. Morning exercise might regulate your circadian rhythm, too, making you naturally more alert in the mornings and then more tired at night. Besides, exercise at any time—whether morning, noon, or night—is a well-established route to improving overall sleep quality.
Also worth noting, especially if you’re hesitant to set that early alarm: By putting you in a solid groove for sleep, starting a morning walk routine may ultimately make it easier to get up and at ‘em in the mornings to come. Sleep well tonight and you’re more likely to wake up ready to lace up tomorrow.
5. It could lower your blood sugar
Got blood sugar issues? A morning walk could be one key to getting your glucose in the black. Several studies have examined how stepping out early in the day affects blood sugar levels—with intriguing results. One small 2013 study in the journal Diabetes Care found that a sustained habit of a 15-minute morning walk (in this case after a meal) significantly improved 24-hour measures of glycemic control in older people.
In fact, it appears that walking after any meal (not just breakfast) can steady blood sugar. Research from 2016 concluded that people with type 2 diabetes had better blood sugar control when they walked briefly after each meal. Pro tip: Walking for short times after each meal was even more effective than taking a single long walk.
So if your main motivation for getting moving is to get your blood sugar in check, consider a morning stroll after a balanced breakfast.
What if you’re not a morning person?
We get it: Not everyone is bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning. If you’re the “but first, coffee” type, there are steps you can take toward making an AM walk a more pleasurable prospect.
The first step actually starts at nighttime. “See your bedtime routine as a way to set you up for a successful tomorrow,” says Moore. “That means going to bed early enough to get enough sleep before your alarm goes off, setting your workout clothes out the night before, and getting your coffee set up.” She also recommends visualizing yourself waking up at your intended time and imagining how good it’ll feel to start your day with some movement.
Another possibility: Recruit a friend. “It’s a lot harder to bail on a friend or neighbor than it is to bail on yourself,” Moore notes. Or, if you don’t have a local walking buddy, consider setting a regular walking phone date with a long-distance friend. “You could also try walking to a destination, like a coffee shop you’ve been wanting to try or a beautiful place where you can sit for a minute and relax and enjoy the scenery before heading home,” she suggests. Soaking up some beauty along the way will amplify your walk’s one-two punch of physical and mental benefits.