I am a firm believer in establishing healthy daily habits that are sustainable for the long haul. The older I get, the more health conscious I’ve become. I really value my health as I want to live a long healthy life to be around for and to set a good example for my 3 children. I try to eat well and move my body daily. One thing I’ve really learned to love is going on a walk! I used to think that anything less than a full out sweat sesh was a complete waste of time, and although I absolutely love a sweaty HIIT workout, I have also learned to love a simple walk outdoors. Not only are there physical and cardiovascular benefits of walking, but it helps me mentally just as much. It gives me a chance to clear my mind, reduce stress and anxiety, and the earth underneath my feet is extremely grounding.
I have talked about this at length before with my friend and health coach Laurin Conlin. She has done a lot of research on this topic and I asked her if she could share some of her knowledge with us in this blog! I think you will be surprised at how a simple walk can really benefit your mind, body, and soul!
Walking Towards A Better Life
With all the gimmicks, quick fixes and “Just 3 easy steps!” type-messaging we see in the health and fitness space, when we see something that is too good to be true… it’s usually too good to be true. And for good reason! Our bodies are complex, our lives are unique and we deserve to explore nuance. But what if I told you that there was something so easy to implement, backed by science and cost free you could do everyday that would improve your health, focus, alertness and sleep. Can you guess what that might be?
Walking. Yes, walking! More specifically, short walks timed at the right part of the day.
Let’s cover some of the basics.
First up, we have the importance of sunlight exposure during our day. When we get bright light exposure early in the day and evening, we help set our circadian rhythm. Our circadian rhythm is what controls our sleep-wakefulness in the most basic sense. Viewing bright light within about an hour or two of waking up, as well as later in the day as the sun is setting, will increase your alertness and regulate your sleep.
A few things to note here: While the lights inside your house are bright, they don’t register nearly as many lux (a measurement used for light detection) as being outside. Even on a cloudy, overcast day! Now, there is something to be said about dimming lights later in the night to support the process of sleep, but this doesn’t mean that you’ll achieve the same effects staying indoor and using indoor light.
Also, this doesn’t mean that light exposure during other parts of the day don’t matter. They do! Additional sunlight exposure is just more information for your brain to recognize what time of day it is, which further helps regulate your circadian rhythm. Lastly, a bright light indoor or sunlight through a window is better than no exposure at all. They sell bright lights that you can put on your vanity or desk, and if it’s a sunny day having the shades open will give you some exposure. Always prioritize being outside because of how much stronger the exposure is, but some light is better than none!
Next, let’s talk about the benefits of being outside. Spending time outdoors has been shown to create positive mood changes, allows us to unplug and even reset your vision. Do you ever notice how your eyes get tired or blurry after being on screens for a prolonged period of time? Your vision is narrowed to look at the computer screen or phone, so if you find yourself working behind a screen you’ve likely experienced this! A quick way to adjust this is to be outside, look out wide and far into the distance to help reset your vision.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, most of us are highly sedentary at work. Getting an adequate amount of steps and activity per day is important for your health, body composition and just how your body feels. Studies have shown that NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) is a distinguishing factor for long term weight maintenance as well. By incorporating more walks, you’re getting in more daily activity that’s relatively low impact and that can be done anywhere!
Lastly, I want to mention the benefits of post meal walks. There’s been some research on how short walks (a duration of just 10 minutes) can help with blood glucose and insulin control. Post meal walks also aid in digestion, which is something a lot of people struggle with!
Let’s put it all together.
That might sound like a lot, but it’s actually not if we stack these habits together! By making an effort to get outside for morning and pre-sunset sunlight, while walking outdoors, and trying to time them up after you eat, you’re able to hit all of these habits without much disruption in your day. Taking 20-30 minutes total per day (that’s even including midday exposure!) you’re able to feel more focused and alert, less anxious and agitated, create better digestion and insulin control and get in a healthy amount of activity.
When it comes to our health, performance and body composition, there always seems like there’s a million and one habits we need to implement. It feels overwhelming and often stops us from taking any action. By identifying a few key habits you can easily implement for a big payoff, like properly timed walks, you’ll be able to easily move the needle forward in a positive direction!