There are certain activities that we do at particular times each day. We eat breakfast in the morning, lunch at midday, and dinner in the evening. We might make our bed after we get up. We brush our teeth in the morning and then again at night (right?).
There are some activities, however, that are best to do period—meaning it doesn’t actually matter when you do them. One of those things? Taking a walk.
Whether you’re struting on a #HotGirlWalk or taking a leisurely stroll, the benefits of walking are numerous. For starters, walking improves cardiorespiratory fitness, it’s linked to longevity, and aids gut health and digestion.
With all those benefits for the taking, it’s easy to see why you would want to walk when you can—whether that’s in the morning, during the afternoon, or before settling into your bedtime routine. However, there are specific benefits, and potential downsides, of 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 their answers below.
Is there a best time of day to walk?
The answer: Yes and no. “Exposure to fresh air and natural light over the course of the day is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle,” says Rebecca Robbins, PhD, sleep expert at sleep-tech company Oura. In other words, the best time to walk is whatever will usually fit in your day.
But also: “Natural sunlight exposure helps to reinforce your circadian rhythm,” says Angela Holliday-Bell, MD, who is the sleep expert at NEOM Organics. “It also helps to increase your serotonin production, which is needed for melatonin production at night. Since you’re most sensitive to natural sunlight within one hour of waking, morning walks are [usually best],” she adds.
However, just because a morning walk gives you the most nighttime snoozing perks doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take a walk if you can’t do it in the morning. In fact, a midday or evening walk each boast their own benefits. In fact, let’s get into the pluses (and potential downsides) of walking during different times of day.
The effects of morning walks
In addition to keeping your circadian rhythm in check—effectively helping you fall asleep easier and get better sleep overall—a morning walk also serves as a fresh start to your day, one in which you can mentally check in with yourself and see how you’re feeling before taking on whatever’s on your to-do list. As one Well+Good writer previously put out, a morning walk can be “the perfect way to shake the cobwebs of sleep out of my brain and get my gears turning.”
Morning walks are also known to help to wake up the digestive system—which can be helpful for those who don’t have much appetite in the morning.
“One of the downfalls [of walking in the morning] would be 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 might get nauseous. The key is understanding your body.”
The effects of midday walks
According to Dr. Holliday-Bell, taking a midday walk can get you out of the post-lunch slump because getting sunlight in your eyes helps to energize you. “Most of us have this midday [decline] in alertness,” she says. “A great way to counteract that is by getting out into natural sunlight because…it stimulates you to feel more awake and energetic,” she says.
Soto also points out that a midday walk would be great for folks whose jobs aren’t physical. “If you have a job where you’re sitting down 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 fight the negative effects of being stationary for too long.
Soto cautions that you shouldn’t try to replace lunch with a walk—because, you know, one’s a meal and one isn’t. “Sometimes, I see that people will skip lunch in an effort to move their body or go out for a walk,” Soto says. “We never want to skip meals, so I see that as a downfall.”
Marcus Brown, a marathon runner, running coach, and Oura member, says he also notices that sometimes his clients find midday walks more stressful than helpful. “Taking a midday walk may disrupt workflow or require rearranging tasks, which can impact productivity,” he says. If this is you, remember that even a five-minute walk would be helpful to your stress levels. (Plus, work will still be there when you get back.)
The effects of evening walks
Taking a walk in the evening can help you unwind, says Dr. Holliday-Bell. “Walking in the evening can improve mood, be relaxing, and decrease stress, especially after work,” she says, adding that “decreasing stress and improving mood can be conducive to sleep.” As functional medicine doctor Jill Carnahan, MD, previously told Well+Good, a late walk can lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and regulate the sympathetic nervous system,
Adding a partner or loved one to this ritual can maximize these mood-boosting benefits even further, and give you a low-stress time to connect after all the work is done for the day.
Additionally, points out Soto, taking a post-dinner walk “definitely helps with digestion.” That’s because walking actually speeds up the process by which your food is broken down and used for nutrients. (The more ya know.)
Depending on where you live, safety concerns might keep you from wandering your neighborhood alone after dark. “Walking in poorly lit areas or areas with potential safety risks can pose challenges during evening walks,” Brown says.
Also, when the sun goes down earlier, “It can be useful to walk in the evenings around sunset so our internal rhythm gets a cue to start the transition to sleep,” says Dr. Robbins. However, as Dr. Holliday-Bell caveats, “Summer months might offer too much sunlight for this to be a good time for an evening walk.” She suggests limiting your sunlight exposure to two hours before your bedtime.
Choosing the walking routine that’s right for you
If you’re in the middle of planning or changing up your walking routine, Brown suggests considering the following:
Personal schedule: Find a time that works most naturally with your daily routine. This will help with consistency.
Energy levels: Ask yourself when you feel most energized and motivated to move.
Goals: “Determine whether you prioritize morning energy, midday mental breaks, or evening relaxation,” says Brown.
Lastly, you want to “keep it fun,” Brown adds. “See if you can get others to join you. Keeping each other accountable and making it social can help make it enjoyable.”
Above all, though, it bears repeating: The best time to walk is whenever you’re doing it. You know, one small step and all that.