The benefits of a morning walk
By Andrea Yu
Walking isn’t just a way to get from one place to another. This simple, low-impact activity can help lower your risk of heart disease, arthritis and type 2 diabetes. But can walking help you to lose weight? And does walking count as cardio?
To answer these questions, we talked to Mark Vrbensky, a physiotherapist at Sheddon Physiotherapy and Sports Clinic in Oakville. He tells us why a daily 30-minute walk is good for your health. He also shares why the morning could be the best time to go for a walk.
Get energy and a mood boost from your morning walk
Ever wake up feeling sluggish and unmotivated in the morning? A quick 30-minute walk can help start your day off on the right foot. Vrbensky helped conduct a study that surveyed participants before and after a dance fitness class. “There was a significant improvement in everybody’s mood after the exercise,” he explains. The body releases endorphins during exercise, which Vrbensky calls “happy chemicals” that make you feel good. “There’s also that feeling of accomplishment,” Vrbensky adds. “That feeling of ‘I did something today’ is very beneficial for someone who’s struggling with those things.”
The blood pumping in your body from a brisk walk may energize you for the rest of the day. “As your heart’s pumping from more activity, there’s going to be more blood flowing to your brain. That’s going to lift your energy up,” Vrbensky explains.
Why go for a morning walk?
There’s actually no physiological reason why Vrbensky suggests his clients go on daily walks in the morning. Instead, he says it’s for behavioural reasons. ““There’s no procrastination or “I’ll do it later” excuse,” he explains. “You set the tone to be productive and accomplished right away.”
For those that already have busy morning routines, lunchtime or after dinner could be more convenient. But it depends on your schedule. “The absolute best time of the day to go for a walk? It’s whenever you think you’re going to do it consistently,” Vrbensky says.
Does walking count as cardio?
The answer to this question isn’t as straightforward, as Vrbensky says it depends on how you view cardio. In the simplest sense, cardio is any activity that increases your heart rate, which walking accomplishes.
Looking to increase your cardio endurance? Vrbensky says that you would benefit from doing more than just a walk. That is if you aren’t suffering from injuries and are capable of doing more high-intensity exercise without pain. “If you want to become a higher-performing athlete, you need a higher intensity than just walking,” he explains. “If you’re 60 years old and want to maintain your health, then walking is definitely cardio.”
Walking still has benefits, regardless of your age. But those capable of doing more intense exercise would benefit from engaging in more intense exercise, according to Vrbensky.
Does walking help with weight loss?
Vrbensky says that walking can help you to lose weight. But depending on your goals and lifestyle, walking might not be enough. “The formula for weight loss is to expend more calories and consume fewer calories,” he says. Walking will expend calories, Vrbensky says. But he also notes that long-term changes to your diet might also be required to lose weight. Vrbensky also recommends those seeking weight loss to incorporate strength training into their routine. “Muscles burn more calories than fat,” he says. “If you have more muscles, you’ll have a higher metabolism and that will help you lose more weight.”
Walking your way to lower heart disease, arthritis and diabetes risk
A regular walking routine will help reduce your risk factor for several diseases.
Here are a few examples:
Heart disease: “With walking or cardio, your heart becomes more efficient at the amount of blood it pumps out per beat,” Vrbensky explains. As the heart becomes more efficient at pumping blood, it doesn’t have to work as hard. “There’s less pressure on all of the arteries and there’s less pressure on the organ itself,” Vrbensky says. “That will impact your heart health for your whole life.”
Arthritis: To understand the benefits of walking for arthritis, Vrbensky encourages us to think of a squeaky door hinge. “If it’s not in use much, there’s going to be rust and guck. It’s going to like being in a closed position,” he says. “If this door hinge is moving back and forth, it’s going to slide and open and close much easier.” Vrbensky says that any type of movement, like a walk, will decrease the stiffness and the pain from arthritis. Walking can also help prevent arthritis from happening in the first place. It can also help reduce other aches and pains such a lower back stiffness.
Type 2 diabetes: “Exercise helps lower blood sugar,” Vrbensky explains. “It’s actually doing the job of insulin for those with type 2 diabetes,” he says. People in a pre-diabetic state can reverse their condition by developing a regular walking routine too. And those at-risk for developing type 2 diabetes can lower their risk with regular exercise. “Even if you’re not close to diabetes, walking will help prevent it long term,” says Vrbensky.
Do I need to power walk for the most benefits?
Vrbensky’s says this is relative to your age and fitness level. While a regular walk is always beneficial, those that are more capable could benefit more from power walking. But if power walking hurts or is difficult, a regular walk can still be of great benefit.
Already have an active fitness routine? Walking can also be a great way to help sore muscles to recover and to keep moving on rest days. “If you go to the gym three times a week, I wouldn’t recommend sitting down and not doing anything for the other four days,” Vrbensky says. And if walking is the only exercise you’re getting, then keep it up. “I tell almost every patient I see in the clinic that they need to walk more,” says Vrbensky. “A daily walking routine is simply the best thing you can do for your health.”