However, there are some activities that are better to do period—which means it doesn’t really matter when you make them. One of those things? Strolling.
Whether you’re strutting around on a #HotGirlWalk or taking a leisurely stroll, the benefits of walking are numerous. For starters, walking improves cardiorespiratory fitness, is linked to longevity, and aids digestion and gut health.
With all of these benefits available, it’s easy to see why you’d want to walk when you can, whether it’s in the morning, during the afternoon, or before you establish your bedtime routine. However, there are specific benefits and potential drawbacks to walking at certain times during the day.
We asked two sleep experts, a registered dietitian and a fitness expert: What is the best time of day to walk? Get your answers below.
Is there a better time of day to walk?
The answer: Yes and no. “Exposure to fresh air and natural light throughout the day is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle,” says Rebecca Robbins, PhD, a sleep expert with sleep technology company Oura. In other words, the best time to walk is the one that normally fits your day.
But also: “Natural exposure to sunlight helps bolster your circadian rhythm,” says Angela Holliday-Bell, MD, sleep expert at NEOM Organics. “It also helps increase serotonin production, which is necessary for melatonin production at night. Since you’re most sensitive to natural sunlight within the first hour of waking up, morning walks are (usually best),” she adds.
However, just because a morning walk gives you the most benefits for sleeping at night doesn’t mean you shouldn’t walk if you can’t do it in the morning. In fact, a walk at noon or evening has its own benefits. In fact, let’s discuss the advantages (and possible disadvantages) of walking at different times of the day.
The effects of morning walks
In addition to keeping your circadian rhythm in check, effectively helping you fall asleep more easily and sleep better overall, a morning walk also serves as a fresh start to your day, one where you can mentally check in and check on yourself. re feeling before you take on what’s on your to-do list. As a Well+Good writer previously put it, a morning walk can be “the perfect way to shake the cobwebs of sleep out of my brain and get my gears rolling.”
Morning walks are also known to help wake up the digestive system, which can be helpful for those who don’t have much of an appetite in the morning.
“One of the downsides (of walking in the morning) would be that if you didn’t eat breakfast, you could have low blood sugar,” says registered dietitian Dalina Soto, RD, LDN, founder of Nutritiously Yours and Your Latina Nutritionist. “That could make you feel dizzy or sluggish. Some people can exercise in the morning without eating, but others may be nauseated. The key is to understand your body.”
The effects of midday walks
According to Dr. Holliday-Bell, taking a walk at noon can snap you out of the post-lunch slump because the sunlight in your eyes helps energize you. “Most of us have this noon (decrease) on alert,” she says. “A great way to counteract that is to get out in natural sunlight because…it encourages you to feel more awake and energized,” she says.
Soto also points out that a midday walk would be great for people whose jobs aren’t physical. “If you have a job where you sit a lot, just getting up and moving in the middle of the day helps break up that sedentary part of your day,” says Soto. This can help combat the negative effects of being immobile for too long.
Soto cautions against trying to replace lunch with a walk, because, you know, one is a meal and the other isn’t. “Sometimes, I see people skip lunch in an effort to move their bodies or go for a walk,” Soto says. “Us never I want to skip meals, so I see it as a ruin.”
Marcus Brown, marathon runner, track coach and Oura member, says he also realizes that sometimes his clients find midday walks more stressful than helpful. “Taking a walk at noon can interrupt the flow of work or require reorganizing tasks, which can affect productivity,” he says. If this is the case for you, remember that even a five-minute walk would help your stress levels. (Plus, the job will still be there when you return.)
The effects of night walks.
Going for a walk at night can help you relax, says Dr. Holliday-Bell. “Walking at night can be mood-boosting, relaxing, and stress-reducing, especially after work,” she says, adding that “reducing stress and improving mood can lead to sleep.” As functional medicine doctor Jill Carnahan, MD, previously told Well+Good, a late walk can reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol and regulate the sympathetic nervous system.
Adding a partner or loved one to this ritual can further maximize these mood-boosting benefits and give you a low-stress moment to connect after all the day’s work is done.
Plus, Soto notes, taking a walk after dinner “definitely helps with digestion.” This is because walking actually speeds up the process by which food is broken down and used for nutrients. (The more you know.)
Depending on where you live, safety concerns may prevent you from wandering your neighborhood alone after dark. “Walking in poorly lit areas or areas with potential safety risks can present challenges during late-night hikes,” says Brown.
Also, when the sun sets earlier, “it can be helpful to walk in the evenings around sunset so that our internal rhythm gets a signal to begin the transition to sleep,” says Dr. Robbins. However, as Dr. Holliday-Bell warns, “the summer months can offer also Plenty of sunlight to make this a good time for an evening walk. She suggests limiting your exposure to sunlight to two hours before bed.
Choosing the right walking routine for you
If you’re planning or changing your walking routine, Brown suggests considering the following:
- Personal schedule: Find a time that works more naturally with your daily routine. This will help with consistency.
- energy levels: ask yourself when you feel more energized and motivated to move.
- Goals: “Determine whether you prioritize morning energy, midday mental breaks, or evening relaxation,” Brown says.
Ultimately, you want to “keep it fun,” Brown adds. “See if you can get others to join you. Holding each other accountable and making it social can help make it enjoyable.”
Above all, however, it bears repeating: The better the time to walk is whenever you are doing it. You know, one small step and all that.
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