In 1847 the author Harriet Martineau wrote that she always goes out early in the morning before it was fully light. Marching along briskly for years has shown her that those early walks were good for her and nothing got her mind ready for work as the early morning light did.
Martineau didn’t need scientific reasons for the numerous benefits she gained by taking a stroll early in the morning – she simply loved doing it! Those benefits have however been proven by science over the years and the facts are plain to see: if you take a simple walk every day of your life, you’ll reap massive benefits if you do so early in the morning.
Taking a walk in the morning has amazing benefits
Light is the main timekeeper that is used by each and every cell in our bodies. If we are injected with light within one hour of waking up in the morning, each neuron and cell is able to set itself accordingly.
We don’t require many hours of light and a ten-minute walk is quite enough. Poor weather should also not deter us as even cloudy and dim daylight contains many more lux (the measure used for light brightness or intensity) than what indoor lighting can ever provide.
Your metabolic health will improve dramatically
Our metabolic health benefits from a walk early in the morning. A study done in 2012 showed that women who walked briskly for 45 minutes every day at 8 a.m. tended to be more active for the rest of the day. They also responded less to pictures of food. This is one of the first studies that showed that exercise energizes us while it at the same time suppresses our appetite. Some researchers now believe we eat less after exercising due to brisk movement raising our body temperature and this activates hypothalamic neurons, which help us in controlling food intake. We therefore eat less when our bodies have been warmed by walking just like we eat less when the weather is warm.
A newer theory however suggests that we eat less after physical activity due to the release of a hormone known as growth differentiation factor 15 (GDF-15). This hormone is produced by our bodies when we move and 2 hours of movement results in our GDF-15 levels swelling fivefold. Research has shown that GDF-15 suppresses appetite in monkeys and rodents and researchers are now studying its effects on humans. Whether it’s caused by heat or hormones, an early-morning walk will help you curb excessive feelings of hunger, and help you in regulating and moderating your appetite.
Strengthen your cardiovascular health and protect your heart
Morning light has far more potential than simply waking us up. A walk early in the morning may also protect our hearts. A study that was done recently indicates that bright light can enhance and protect our cardiovascular system. It does so by cutting our risk of a heart attack as it boosts a specific gene that fortifies blood vessels. Scientists had already noticed a link between heart disease and light as they observed that heart attacks were more prevalent during the winter months.
This study however discovered an intriguing new piece of information: It found that participants experienced increased levels of a protein known as PER2 when they had been exposed to intense light for five consecutive days between 8:30 and 9 a.m. PER2 is crucial for fortifying blood vessels, improving metabolism, and setting circadian rhythms. The same experiment had earlier been performed on blind mice and found bright light did not have an effect. This indicates the crucial role our eyes have in this equation.
In the experiments performed, light measuring 10,000 lumens in intensity was used. To put this in perspective, daylight in Europe range from 1,000 to 100,000 lumens depending on how overcast the sky is, location and latitude, and the time of year and day. On a typical semi-cloudy morning in Britain in winter, the light intensity may reach a peak of 16,000 lumens. In summer this increases to about 70,000 lumens. Indoor spaces and artificial lighting can’t compete as the average indoor light intensity is about 500 lumens. Being next to a window also doesn’t help as glass filters out a good percentage of the UV light that helps us set our biological clocks.
Optimize your circadian rhythm to perform like never before
When we first wake up our sensitivity to light is at its lowest. This means we need bright light to set our circadian rhythms and to alert our brains for the day. Several studies have indicated that how the first hour after waking is spent has a big influence on our chance of a good night’s sleep. Morning light signals the layer of neurons that reside behind our eyes that they should get going, and ensures that our melatonin production eases off. Melatonin is the hormone that helps us sleep at night and makes us feel drowsy. A good dose of morning light also results in cortisol flooding through our system and this wakes us up, and energizes and invigorates us. A few minutes of our walk in the morning should ideally be done without wearing sunglasses, unless the day is dazzlingly bright.
Morning light also generates our bodies to make serotonin, a chemical produced by our nerve cells that makes us feel good. Serotonin regulates how well we sleep, later converting to the very melatonin we need to sleep soundly. Odd though it seems, an early-morning walk might be the most constructive thing we can do to improve our nighttime sleep.
After walking the dogs every morning for many years, I’ve found that I am addicted to this morning activity. I love the opportunity to plan my day and collect myself, and the health benefits are a welcome by-product.