We all know we should exercise. We all know we should take some uninterrupted “me” time every day. We also recognize meditation and communing with nature as part of a healthy lifestyle. Making time for these things, however, is much easier said than done. But does it have to be so time-consuming to reap these benefits? No way! I’ve recently incorporated a morning walk into my daily schedule, and I’ve found it to be a really worthwhile activity. Think about these five reasons to break out your sneakers as the sun comes up:
- Walking is cheap and easy. I don’t belong to a gym. I have nothing against them, but I don’t find it to be a relaxing, or necessarily convenient, way to work out. When I take a walk, all I need are some sweats and tennis shoes. And barring any major health issues, walking is an activity everyone, regardless of age or physical ability, can participate in.
- Walking is way better than running! OK, I suppose that’s my own personal opinion. I know plenty of people who run and find it a fulfilling, challenging, and practically addictive way to exercise. But I also know of individuals who have sustained injuries due to the jarring effects of running. A recent study by Norwegian researchers suggests that long walks are just as beneficial to our health as shorter, high-intensity runs. The biggest problem facing many Americans is extended sitting for many hours at a time, something that can contribute to all sorts of health problems. I don’t walk for hours a day, but I figure the time I do spend each morning walking (20 to 30 minutes) is doing more good than lying in bed.
- Walking is good “me” time. I usually walk alone, as it gives me time to plan my day or, alternatively, to zone out and clear my head. And I can go at my own pace. You really don’t have to concentrate on your steps while you walk, so you’re free to let your mind wander. One great thing about walking in the morning is that you rarely encounter many people. There are few distractions and other voices clouding your head. If you prefer to walk with a friend for company, by all means, do! Occasionally I walk with my older son, and I love hearing him tell me about the solar system or his plans for the day.
- Mornings rock! If you’re reading this while a blizzard rages outside your window, perhaps a morning walk isn’t ideal. I live in Southern California, however, where it’s usually warm enough to walk at dawn all year long. In fact, during our hot months, it’s not comfortable to walk at any other time than in the early morning. I enjoy seeing the world from a different perspective as the sun comes up: the air is crisp, the colors are muted, and the streets are quiet. Sometimes I encounter wildlife on my walks through my suburban neighborhood, such as rabbits, bats, doves, owls, and fairies. OK, fine, I haven’t seen a fairy–yet.
- Days are better with “buffers.” When I was growing up, my dad always woke up far earlier than he had to before work. He would exercise, drink coffee, water the plants, read–whatever he wanted to do. While many people would rather maximize their sleep time, he chose to rise early to have a buffer between sleep and the start of his stressful day at work. I can relate to this desire, to have some time just for me before my kids wake up and the morning school rush begins. I like to do the same thing at night, before going to sleep, ending the day with a little yoga, reading, or TV before turning out the lights. I used to begin the day with yoga, as well, but I’ve found that a walk is more invigorating and creates more diversity in my daily routine.
It’s not rocket science, and it’s not tough. The hardest part of a morning walk, of course, is simply choosing to give up a little morning sleep. But if you decide to start your day with a brisk stroll, you’ll no doubt get hooked on the effects: a clearer mind, a more energetic body, and shapely legs to boot. And if you happen to see one of those elusive fairies, give them my regards.