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  • Writer's picturePetra

The Benefits of Morning Walks: A Path to Mental and Physical Wellbeing

Morning walks are more than just a pleasant start to the day; they offer significant benefits for both mental and physical health. Since I began practising as a psychologist, I've consistently recommended this simple yet powerful activity to my clients. Morning walks can enhance mood, strengthen circadian rhythm, and improve overall well-being, proving to be more impactful than one might initially think.


Personally, I walk to and from work and take two to three morning walks up a hill each week. I see this exercise and light exposure as important to my mental health and sleep routine.


Enhancing Circadian Rhythm Through Light Exposure

One of the key benefits of a morning walk is exposure to natural light. This exposure plays am important role in strengthening your circadian rhythm—your body’s internal clock that regulates sleep and wakefulness. Thirty minutes of natural light in the morning helps align this rhythm, leading to improved alertness during the day and better quality sleep at night. For those struggling with sleep disturbances—a common issue in adults with ADHD—regular morning walks can be particularly beneficial.



Improving Mood

Morning light exposure influences our mental state. It helps reduce cortisol levels, aiding in wakefulness, and has a therapeutic effect on depression. Exposure to 30 minutes of natural light in the morning is an evidence-based treatment for both seasonal and major depression. This makes morning walks a particularly valuable addition to daily routines, especially for those seeking behavioural methods to enhance their mental health.



The Physical Benefits of Walking

Walking is an accessible form of exercise for most people, and it can often be performed at least a few days a week. Regular walking increases cardiovascular health and helps maintain muscle mass, which is beneficial as we age. Importantly, it doesn’t require intense effort to yield mental health benefits; even moderate-paced walks can provide significant health advantages.


Related Resource: Dr Michael Mosley's podcast on the health benefits of a morning walk.


Opportunities for Social Interaction and Mindfulness

A morning walk can also be an excellent opportunity for social interaction, whether you join a walking group, walk with a friend or partner, or simply greet familiar faces (including pets) along your route. Social connections are important for emotional resilience and can provide a sense of community and support.


Moreover, walking offers a chance to practice mindfulness. By paying attention to the sensations of movement, the sounds of the environment, the sights around you, or the changing seasons and growth of plants, you can enhance your awareness and grounding in the present moment. On my hill walks I pause to watch native birds (kererū and korimako), and to listen to their songs in the treetops. Walking allows you to see more of your environment compared to travelling by car. This mindfulness practice can reduce stress and promote mental wellness.


Conclusion

Incorporating a 30-minute walk into your morning routine can significantly enhance your mental health. The combination of natural light exposure, physical activity, potential for social interaction, and the opportunity for mindfulness creates a foundation for well-being. For individuals managing conditions like ADHD and depression, it offers a gentle yet effective tool to improve daily functioning and quality of life.



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