Tempting though that snooze button may be, fitting in a morning walk can be much more than simply a good form of exercise; they allow us to see our neighborhood and nature from a whole new perspective. From dog walkers to hummingbirds to occasional lurking moonsets, there are many compelling reasons to set that alarm clock a half hour early.
You might already know that there are plenty of physical and mental health reasons to enjoy a daily walk. The American Heart Association encourages people to get at least 150 minutes of exercise such as walking weekly. Even just a quick, daily 20-minute walk could lower your risk of heart disease by 30 percent. Studies have also found that movement such as walking helps to combat depression and improves overall mental health. The National Cancer Institute indicates that walking, among other activities, appears to reduce the risk of several types of cancer, including breast, colon, and esophageal. Walking also appears to diminish the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Suffice it to say, that there is significant evidence that walking is a worthwhile endeavor for supporting our overall well-being.
Where do wonder and merriment come into things, though? Are there reasons beyond physical health to squeeze a walk into your already-busy morning?
Encounter the wonderful world of nature
For many of us, a good portion of our day is spent in an office environment with little if any touches of nature. Our main physical interactions are with a keyboard and a plastic mouse. Going outside in the morning, we enter into fresh air, the musical chorus of birds, and an array of things to delight our senses.
Most of the year, my morning walk takes place shortly after dawn and can include the sunrise. Sometimes the moon lingers in the sky for a while after the dawn amidst blue skies and the occasional puffball of clouds. Seeing those orbs in the sky offers a reminder that my day is part of a global experience.
Being outside most mornings has also made me keenly aware of the amazing variety of birds and their fascinating interactions. We are likely to see (and hear) more birds in the morning since that’s a popular mealtime for many species. I’ve seen hummingbirds spar, ravens interact so carefully it looks as though they might consult Robert’s Rules of Order, and a squad of squawking parrots fly with zero semblance of a V formation. It’s made me more attuned to how many different kinds of birds there are. In fact, the American Museum of Natural History estimates there are about 18,000 different species of birds in the world.
Birds aren’t the only type of animal to see, of course. In my Southern California neighborhood, I’ve observed butterflies, colorful garden spiders, squirrels, and a few coyotes traipsing across the road before it gets too busy. Mornings appeal to wild rabbits, deer, and other prey creatures who are crepuscular, meaning most active at dawn and dusk. Much of the year, by the time we return home from work at night, those animals would be done with their evening meals and out of sight.
Walking outside, I also have a chance to see the trees and flowers go through their seasonal changes or—due to the warm climate where I live—sometimes their general confusion about which season it is. Those trees and flowers are not only stunning in their beauty, but also often splendidly fragrant.
Build your community
In addition to sparking our senses through the sky, flora, and fauna around us, a morning walk helps us to connect more with other humans.
If you haven’t heard the bit of advice that if you want to meet people, get a dog, then you’ve heard it now. A dog is certainly one reliable icebreaker in talking to passersby as you walk around your area. But the dog doesn’t have to be yours—many dog owners are happy to chat for a bit and let you pet their canine companions (but don’t forget to ask permission before approaching and especially before touching anyone’s animal!).
Really, you don’t even need a pet as an excuse to say “hello” and ask how someone’s doing, particularly when you’ve seen them repeatedly week after week. Walking around the same time in the same area means seeing the “regulars.” That provides its own sense of comfort and familiarity. Meeting your neighbors engages you in your community.
Neighbors becoming more neighborly also means you can give or receive a helping hand. In my community, some people with fruit trees even leave out baskets of their excess “crop” for the taking. If there are any concerns in the neighborhood, talking with your fellow walkers can keep you better informed about things that may not be on the news but are still worthy of your time and attention. They could even be the serendipitous source of your next favorite restaurant, a little shop you didn’t know existed, or inspiration for a new adventure!
Awaken your imagination
The news, social media platforms, emails, and more inundate us with information throughout our days. Ideally, a morning walk gives you time to focus on movement and experiencing the living world around you. (Though people do try it, walking while staring at a device can lead to some awkward collisions!)
Morning walks allow us to engage our curiosity and imagination by letting our brains meet the day before being overloaded by information. Plus, walking boosts our creativity, even if we do our walking inside rather than outdoors. If we start the day with a walk, our minds have a chance to process and create ideas rather than becoming bogged down by what other people and the media want to tell us.
Start the day off with a sense of accomplishment
Making time for a morning walk requires intentionality in getting up early enough and designating a time for it. My goal most mornings is to walk about 30 minutes. I give myself a lot of grace on this though. I may end up with only 15 or 20 minutes some days. This isn’t about perfection. Simply trying to be consistent in taking those literal steps can make it a natural part of a morning routine. Plus, once we finish, we can begin the day knowing we’ve already accomplished something good for ourselves.
Finding walking buddies can make walks more fun and easier to maintain as part of a scheduled commitment. For families with young children, the idea of a family walk in the morning may make some laugh out loud. Perhaps you think this morning walk ritual is a luxury of life outside of the world of parenthood. However, many families in my area walk their kids to school. So that’s one way they get in a regular brisk walk. People can also park several blocks away and walk the rest. (You gain the luxury of avoiding the drop-off line of cars this way!) Plus, the imagination boost mentioned above—and the opportunity to burn off some energy—provide a compelling reason for families with younger kids to try morning walks together as well. Whatever your state in life, a morning walk can both improve your health and bring some genuine merriment and fun into your day.