morning walk, morning routine
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Morning Rituals: The Power of a Simple Morning Walk

When I first started exploring morning routines, I was in crisis mode and needed something to help with my burnout and anxiety, ASAP. I wasn’t a yogi, I didn’t know how to meditate, and I didn’t have the time to learn anything new. Plus I was super skeptical that anything was going to help me tame all the awful feelings that came with my paycheck. All of this left me feeling really stuck in an anxiety tailspin, which was zero fun.

One day, my therapist casually suggested going for a walk every morning, and honestly, I wanted to double check her credentials. I took a deep breath and politely reminded her that I live in New York, and I WALK EVERYWHERE. I had walked from my office to her couch that very day and was still in tears, so clearly “going for a walk” was a dumb idea.

She very patiently explained to me that there was a big difference between walking to get somewhere (usually late and hauling a too-heavy bag) and walking to spend time in self-connection and relieve anxiety. She asked me to trust her, and just try it – every morning for 15 minutes for a week – and report back. I left there having grudgingly agreeing to follow her advice.

One Foot in Front of the Other

morning walk, morning routine

The next morning, I laced up my sneakers and took my coffee mug for a walk in Central Park. In the movie-version of this, it was a beautiful, sunny day, birds were chirping, and I found a hundred-dollar bill on the walking path. In reality, it was a crummy gray day in March. I didn’t wear the right layers (do I ever?) and I was chilly the entire time. I noticed how sad all the bare trees looked, and how my nose would not stop running. By the time I got home I couldn’t wait for a hot shower. Then, to prove a point, I repeated this process every day until my next appointment.

After the first walk I made some adjustments – more layers, pocket tissues, larger coffee – and set out. A few days in, I actually did hear a few birds chirping. I found myself taking more purposeful strides, breathing deeper, looking around to see who else was out on a mad morning trek. And here’s what I wasn’t doing: stressing about the workday ahead. I didn’t even try to avoid my usual racing thoughts, it just sort of happened on its own.

By the end of the week, I had extended my walks to 20 minutes, and truly looked forward to them every morning. Somehow, walking outside had effortlessly carved out a little bit of stress-free time in my day, and I was hooked. Could it really be this simple?

Why Walking Works

Though I didn’t know it then, walking was about to become a springboard into the morning routine that would ultimately help me heal from burnout. I committed to these short morning walks, and as the days turned into weeks, I noticed subtle shifts not just in my morning mood but in my overall well-being. Curious, I set out to understand why this simple practice was so powerful.

A Morning Walk Soothes the Mind and Spirit

The first real benefit I noticed was the mood boost. When I started my walks, I was sleepy and a bit grumpy, but after 20 minutes I always felt calmer, and dare I say it, cheerful. The anxiety and stress that once clouded my mornings began to dissipate, replaced by a sense of calm and readiness to face the day. Walking became my daily dose of natural antidepressant, thanks to the endorphins that flooded my system with each stride.

Science, Please!

Endorphins are chemicals produced by the body to relieve stress and pain. They function as neurotransmitters, which are chemicals that transmit signals in the brain. When you engage in physical activity such as walking, your body increases the production of endorphins.

In other words, when you walk, your body releases a chemical that says “Hey, this feels good! Do more of this!” And an endorphin-boosting walk can lead to several mental health benefits:

1. Mood Enhancement: The increase in endorphin levels can help improve your mood almost immediately. This is why a walk, especially in a serene environment or with enjoyable company, can leave you feeling more optimistic and less gloomy.

2. Stress Reduction: Physical activities like walking also increase the concentration of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. So regular walking can help you manage stress more effectively.

3. Anxiety Reduction: Regular walking can also contribute to the reduction of anxiety levels. The combination of endorphin release, stress reduction, and the meditative aspect of rhythmic, physical activity can help calm the mind.

morning walk, morning routine

4. Improved Self-esteem and Cognitive Function: Regular physical activity, including walking, has been linked to improvements in cognitive function and self-esteem, both of which are crucial for mental health.

5. Connection with Nature: Walking outdoors, particularly in green spaces, can enhance the mental health benefits through what’s often referred to as “green exercise.” The natural surroundings can help reduce stress and improve mood and self-esteem even further.

6. Better Sleep: Taking a walk outdoors is key, because exposure to natural light in the morning helps regulate your body’s internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm. Morning sunlight signals to your brain that it’s time to wake up and helps regulate the production of melatonin, a hormone that controls sleep, in the evening. This improved regulation can lead to a more consistent sleep schedule and make it easier to fall asleep at night.

Once I truly understood the all the benefits of this simple practice, I knew I needed to keep it up daily, and I’m so glad I did. It’s been several years since my therapist casually tossed out this magical mental health tool and I’ve thanked her many times over. I mean, it would be nice if she wasn’t always right, but I digress.

Make it Part of Your Morning

The great thing about adding a walk to your morning ritual, is that there’s no wrong way to do it. Just put on some decent walking shoes and head out the door. Ideally, you’re out in nature, but even 15-minutes on a treadmill can help you feel better. Over the years, I’ve experimented with a lot of different ways to spice up my morning stroll. Here’s a few ideas you may want to try to mix it up.

morning walk, morning routine
  • Try a walking meditation. A lot of meditation apps have walking options, designed to help you practice mindfulness without closing your eyes. These meditations usually contain breathing exercises, and cues to connect with the natural world around you as you walk. It’s great for mornings when you’re short on time but want to get in the three M’s of a great morning routine. Read more about Movement, Mindfulness, and Morning Sunshine here.
  • Invite a friend. You don’t have to be a silent soldier, trudging out alone, to experience the benefits of a morning walk. Invite a friend to join you and you’ll be adding all the benefits of social connection to your morning routine.
  • Go on a weird walk. I generally walk the same route in Central Park, so every once in a while, I like to make it a “weird walk.” This is when I actively seek out the weirdest thing I can spot on my walk. And I don’t stop when I see one weird thing, I try to top it. It’s really just a sneaky mindfulness trick that helps you really focus on your outer surroundings instead of your inner worries. Plus, you’ll almost always have a great story to tell later.

A Morning Walk is Magic

Look, I’m not saying that walking is going to automatically fix everything in your life, but it will do you a lot of good, and it certainly won’t make anything worse. And sometimes, “not worse” is technically an improvement.

There are so many reasons why walking is such great way to start your day, and honestly this post is just scratching the surface. You could certainly cozy up with Google and find more research about the mental and physical benefits, or spend a few days hunting down the perfect walking shoe before you get started, but I’d encourage you to just get up tomorrow and get going. If you can commit to 15 minutes for 7 days, I can almost guarantee that you’ll start to feel a difference.

And if it’s cold out, bring tissues.

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6 Comments

  1. Oooh I love this!! Especially when your therapist explains that walking to get somewhere is different than walking to spend time in self-connection. I love the idea of starting my day with a walk, but I always worry about safety. Got any tips for that? 🙂

  2. I love that you found a one hundred-dollar bill on your walk. Almost a confirmation that you were stepping in the right direction. I often struggle with keeping a walking routine, so your suggestions definitely speak to me. I think I’ll give this a try for a week and see how I feel. Thanks for your insights!

  3. My husband and I walk twice a day together and it works wonders for our mood! We work from home and would rarely get out if it weren’t for our daily walks. Great post and thanks for sharing!

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