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How to get more health benefits from your daily walk

Would you like to boost your mood, improve your sleep and cut your risk of heart disease and diabetes? All by doing Just One Thing? Then try Dr Michael Mosley’s new podcast where he reveals the simple things you can start doing tomorrow, that could make a surprisingly big difference to your physical and mental health – starting with simply getting out and about when you wake up.

Let there be light

After months of lockdown, many of us have realised the importance of getting out of the house. But do you know why it feels so good? Exposure to sunlight causes changes in your brain, increasing your level of serotonin, the brain chemical that boosts your mood. And that’s not the only benefit…

Sunlight stops the brain making melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel tired.

In the UK we spend about 22 hours a day indoors, but our bodies are designed to be exposed to natural light. From the moment you open your eyes in the morning, sensors at the back of your eyes detect light and send a signal to the tiny area within your brain’s hypothalamus that controls your body clock – your body’s natural sleep/wake cycle. Sunlight stops the brain making melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel tired – so it literally wakes you up during the day.

The light outside is 50-100 times brighter than inside, and Michael reveals the surprisingly simple ways you can use this knowledge to control your own body clock. By exposing yourself to bright light early in the day, you can bring forward your body clock, so you are more ready to go to sleep at night. The sooner you get out and about, the sooner you will start to feel sleepy at night. Two hours after dawn is the optimum time if you want to improve your sleep patterns at night.

But as Michael discovers, it’s not just when you walk, but how you walk that matters…

We join Michael on his morning walk

A clip from Radio 4's Just One Thing.

Walk this way

With a few small changes, you can make something as simple as going for a walk a LOT healthier.

Walking faster significantly reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Michael is joined in the podcast by expert Marie Murphy, Professor of Exercise and Health at Ulster University who has over 20 years’ experience researching the benefits of walking exercise. She reveals how her recent study of 50,000 people found that upping your pace can increase the benefit of walking by as much as 20 to 50 percent. Her results show that walking faster significantly reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease.

From whether you should walk before or after breakfast to what song you should be listening to while you do it, Marie fills Michael in on all the latest research on how best to make your walk work for you. Listen to the podcast to hear how to get the best results from your walks.

If you want to be truly healthy, Michael discovers it’s not just getting in 10,000 steps that matters, but how you do them. A small change can make a huge difference to the health benefits you get.

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