It can be a challenge to resist pressing the snooze button — especially when the days become shorter and light becomes scarcer. But setting your alarm a little earlier to make time for a short walk has big benefits. For one, research suggests early morning sunlight exposure is linked to lower body mass index (BMI) and healthier sleep schedules. Other studies find the benefits of walking are more far-reaching, demonstrating that even short walks boost creativity and improve mental health.
Of course, talking about starting your day with a morning walk and actually starting your day with a morning walk are two different things.
Here, six ways to bridge the gap between knowledge and action:
LAY OUT YOUR GEAR THE NIGHT BEFORE
This removes one of the steps involved in getting out the door, says Amanda Nurse, a Boston-based run coach. “Sometimes we can talk ourselves out of exercising because it takes too much work to get ready.” Streamlining the process makes you more likely to actually get going, she says. It also provides a little bit of guilt if you don’t go. “You’ll just have to put those clothes away instead.”
START WITH SMALL ALARM CHANGES
For 2–3 weeks, commit to waking up 20 minutes earlier than you normally do. It might feel like a stretch at first, but it’ll pay off. “So often we make the excuse that we don’t have the time to fit in the things that we need whether that’s making time for activity or making time for friends,” says Emily Abbate, a New York-based trainer. After a few weeks, when the alarm and the walk become habit, she says you won’t be as inclined to hit snooze. “You’ll be able to get in that extra bit of activity that maybe your body has really been needing.”
AT FIRST, KEEP YOUR WALK SHORT
“It takes a while for a behavior to become a habit, so make the behavior exceptionally easy at first,” says Dr. Christopher Winter, president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine and author of The Sleep Solution. You might simply walk around your block or commit to 10 minutes on your feet. “By doing this you will be less likely to skip your walk,” he says. “As your streak of consecutive days of walking builds, your drive to keep it going will be stronger.” Build up your distance on days you’re feeling strong or might have a little bit more time, he suggests.
WALK WITH A FRIEND
Agree to walk with a good friend before work, meet your neighbor or schedule a weekly walk date with a family member. “The subtle social pressure of meeting others will prevent you from skipping out at the last minute,” says Winter. “Humans have an innate drive to please, and this can be used to your advantage.” Not to mention, starting your day with someone else provides some social interaction, which is important to both physical and mental health.
PAIR YOUR WALK WITH SOMETHING YOU ENJOY
“I incorporate a morning walk into my routine and pair it with my favorite news podcast,” says Abbate. “It’s 15–20 minutes and I have nothing else to do except walk around and get my morning dose of news.” Whether you to like to check out new music on Spotify or walk that extra mile to your favorite coffee shop, you’re more likely to make walking a habit if it’s linked to something you enjoy.
CHANGE YOUR ROUTE
Instead of strolling the same loop around the park every morning, try exploring new areas in your neighborhood or venturing down streets you’ve never been down. “Seeing new things along the route will occupy your brain and distract it from dwelling on the work or distances involved,” says Winter. This can help the walk feel fresh and make it something you look forward to every day.