As part of my new “sisu” life mentality, I recently developed a habit of going on morning walks. I wake up earlier than I used to, immediately put on my shoes and head out the door to get some fresh air on a stroll around the neighborhood. Although it’s a small daily habit, here are a few of the major impacts it has had on my life so far…
A morning walk is the best way to wake your brain up for the day, because the sun’s daylight enters your eyes and communicates to your brain that it’s time to stop sleeping. But there are even more positive benefits from moderate sunlight exposure. Sunlight signals serotonin production in the brain, which raises your mood. It also helps your body absorb vitamin D, which is responsible for many important functions in your body and boosts your immune system. Research studies have even correlated walking with increased creative thinking and improved memory.
So, instead of going through my morning routine still groggy and half-asleep, now I come home after walking and feel more energized and ready for the day. A walk also gives me time to organize my thoughts and formulate a plan of attack for the day’s work. When I return home, I feel more prepared and less stressed about tackling all of the day’s tasks. I even enjoy my morning routine more, simply because I’m more awake and feel more in control of my day.
I’m thirty years old and consider myself a mostly fit person, but this year I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and have been dealing with debilitating pain and discomfort ever since. I used to work out daily, but as I discovered with my diagnosis, most forms of exercise actually cause stress and inflammation in the body, which is not good for arthritis. Walking, however, is easy on the body and still offers multiple health benefits. In fact, researchers have found that moderate walking offers the same health benefits as vigorous running —improves endurance and circulation, prevents weight gain, and lowers the risk of stroke, chronic disease and cancer — but is much easier on the joints.
After my daily walk, my joints not only feel better but my body also feels stronger. I’ve also noticed an improvement in digestion, because walking boosts my metabolism before I eat my usual breakfast. And these effects last all day long, because I experience less pain and fatigue now throughout the day.
This is the most important benefit to a daily walk outside. I started this habit because of what I read about the power of “sisu” as part of the Finnish lifestyle. Of course, there are many health benefits to spending time out in nature, because we human beings simply belong there — breathing fresh air, feeling the natural temperature, and dealing with the elements. But even more importantly, in the modern era, humans spend far too much time in artificial environments, which not only destroys our health, but also our spirit. Truthfully, I started going on morning walks to replace my old habit of waking up and instantly checking my phone. I have to say that going on walks is much more soul-satisfying. The morning walk is now my sacred quiet time before the hustle and bustle of the day begins. I have time to reflect on life and check in with myself, which also nourishes the soul.
I would argue that walking outside every day even makes me feel more alive. Instead of just driving by my surroundings on my way to work, walking gives me time to look around and appreciate the natural environment. Since I’ve started this habit, I’ve gotten to witness the change from winter to spring and now summer. I paid more attention to the trees and flowers blooming and to the birds emerging from hibernation and chirping their morning songs. I also notice the people who are already awake and outdoors with me—the commuters and the other walkers, runners and bikers — which makes me feel more connected to my community and feel like I’m a part of something bigger. Some days, my husband even joins me and taking morning walks together has strengthened our relationship. We get to connect with each other more meaningfully before we both head off to work and we both enjoy the same overall positive health benefits throughout the day.
Needless to say, something as small as a daily morning walk has profoundly enhanced my life. Now, I encourage you to try this daily habit for yourself. Even if you only have a few minutes to walk outside every morning, you can experience these amazing benefits too.