How a regular morning walk can fight depression, you might well ask? The health benefits of exercise, both physical and mental, are well-documented, and even though movement might not be the first thing on your mind when you wake up, research shows that starting the day with a walk can provide a number of health benefits. It’s tempting to keep pressing ‘snooze’ on the alarm and to prioritise your morning coffee when you first wake up, but incorporating something as simple as walking to your morning routine can be key in keeping issues like anxiety and depression at bay.
An Energy Booster
Starting your day with a morning walk can give you more energy throughout the day. Now, I know that sounds like absolute rubbish, but it’s true; just a 20 minute walk can make you feel energised for the rest of the day – even more so if it’s out in the fresh air rather than on a treadmill. There was even a study conducted that showed that even just 10 minutes of walking was considered more energising than a cup of coffee for sleep-deprived subjects. The symptoms of depression vary greatly from person to person, but a lack of energy is often cited as one of them. Taking a regular morning walk to boost your energy levels could be a positive step towards improving your mental health.
A Mood Booster
As well as making you feel more energised, a daily walk could also improve your mood – and who doesn’t want that?! The psychological benefits associated with walking include improving self-esteem and reducing stress – both of which can greatly affect your mood. We live a fast-paced lifestyle, where we want everything yesterday and we are in constant competition with our peers. It’s exhausting. Now imagine getting up before the rest of the world and stepping outside into the cool morning, feeling the tarmac under your feet and hearing the birds singing. Breathing in all that fresh air. Enjoying the silence. I think that would improve anyone’s mood, and probably refresh you enough to re-join the rat race with renewed vigour.
Setting A Goal
Having something to work towards can be great for focus, and setting fitness goals will benefit both your physical and mental health. Whether it be adding an extra five minutes to your walk each day until you’ve achieved your desired walking time or number of steps, or if you want to work towards increasing your pace or walking with ankle weights for example, setting a goal can help with depression. The exercise will release endorphins and other ‘happy hormones’, and reaching a goal will give you a sense of achievement, boosting your mood in the process.
Another happy side effect of getting up and out and enjoying a regular morning walk is that you could lose weight. There are of course faster ways to shed excess pounds if that’s your aim, but even a 30 minute walk could burn 150 calories – and if you walk every day that’ll soon add up. It could be that feeling fitter motivates you to take up other forms of exercise, or that you start to have a more positive body image, both of which will be good for your mental health – after all, it’s well-known that exercise is considered a great natural antidepressant, and anything that makes you feel better about yourself can only be a good thing.
Healthy Body; Healthy Mind
When we don’t feel our best physically, it can make us feel unwell mentally, and taking a daily walk could help keep certain physical ailments at bay. For example, did you know that walking for 30 minutes a day can reduce your risk of heart disease by 19% as well as reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. If you live with diabetes, walking could lower your blood sugar levels, and it can also help strengthen muscles and improve stamina – and even improve bone health. Knowing that you’re working towards keeping your body as healthy as possible can often really help with depression – feeling stronger and healthier physically can have a positive effect on how strong you feel mentally.
You’ll probably find too that starting your day with a walk will lead to you making healthier choices throughout the day. When your energy is low you’re much more likely to reach for snacks to give you a boost – taking that regular morning exercise could mean that you knock the fatty, sugary comfort food on the head – which will be better for you all round.
A Better Night’s Sleep
Research shows that people who exercise in the morning have a better quality of sleep than those who exercise in the evening – the science doesn’t tell us why mind you! – but a 2017 study proved that to be the case. Whatever the reasons, a regular morning walk could mean that you have a better night’s sleep, and that can be crucial for those living with depression.
Sleep-deprived people are more likely to feel unmotivated during the day, lacking in energy and more likely to eat unhealthy foods – none of which are going to do you any favours if you are living with depression. The benefits to a regular morning walk are numerous – improved mood, more energy, and more motivation – not to mention taking some ‘me time’, and improving your physical and mental health – all of which contribute to helping relieve the symptoms of depression.
So how can we make sure that taking a morning walk becomes part of our regular routine?
- Be Prepared: Don’t wake up and decide on a whim whether you’re going to walk or not – get prepared the night before. Have your walking clothes laid out ready, and your trainers by the door ready to go! That way you won’t waste any time searching for what you need in the morning.
- Set An Alarm – Set aside a dedicated amount of time in which to walk – just 20 or 30 minutes before you would normally get up is plenty of time. Set an alarm and make it part of your daily ritual.
- Walk With A Friend – If you’re someone who finds it hard to get motivated why not arrange to walk with a friend? You can give each other a kick up the backside when you’re feeling lazy, and having someone to talk with can be a great stress-reliever and can help with symptoms of depression.
- Walk To Work – If you’re going to be pushed for time in the mornings when it comes to fitting in a regular walk, make it a part of your daily commute instead – walk to the next bus stop instead of the one outside your house, or, if you drive, park slightly further away from the office and fit your 20 minute walk in that way.
So many of us now live with depression or other mental health issues such as anxiety or stress, and although medications and therapies work for a lot of people, for some a simple morning walk could be enough to ease the symptoms and start to feel like yourself again, so why not give a try and see if it works for you.
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