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Be Like Harry - Get Outside for a Brisk Morning Walk

People walking through the beautiful lake side park in autumn. WHarry Truman was one of the healthiest and longest-lived U.S. presidents. You probably know that Harry’s hometown was Independence, Missouri, and throughout his life he enjoyed strolling its streets. Truman would habitually step out of his modest home and walk for one or two miles each morning around his neighborhood, past the houses, schools, and churches he had always known.
His daily routine started with a 20 to 40 minute bracing walk as the sun was coming up. Harry said that he walked “as if I were on my way to an important meeting.” While president, his security guards tagged along behind as Harry marched at about 120 paces per minute, a military cadence he learned from his days as a soldier in the army during World War I.
Harry was also a dog lover and famously said, “If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.” In fact, adopting a dog is an ideal strategy for developing a walking habit. Compared to people who don’t have a dog, those who adopt a dog into their home are about 14 times more likely to be recreational walkers, and four times more likely to meet current U.S. guidelines of 150 minutes per week of physical activity. The highlight of your canine best friend’s life will be getting out for a walk with you at least once a day, regardless of the weather. I believe that the considerable mental and physical health benefits of having a loving and devoted walking partner are worth the added responsibilities and expenses of dog ownership.
The season of the year didn’t matter much to Harry, who walked the streets even when they were covered in snow. With the passing decades, he continued his morning walks, albeit for shorter distances at a more leisurely pace. In 1969, when Truman was 85 years old, a schoolboy at William Chrisman Junior High School recalled seeing the retired president walking by a few minutes before 8:00 each morning.
Getting Outside in the Morning Light Is Vital

Andrew Huberman is a renowned neuro-ophthalmologist and a professor at Stanford University who hosts one of the most popular podcasts on health and well-being. He asserts, “Getting sunlight in your eyes first thing in the morning is absolutely vital to mental and physical health.
Being outdoors in the morning sunshine for a walk, a run, a bike ride, some yoga, or gardening is the best way to entrain your circadian rhythm so that you’re wide awake all day and sleeping soundly at night. The morning outdoor light in your eyes triggers the timed release of cortisol, which acts as a wake-up signal and promotes alertness and the ability to focus during the day. The dawn sunlight also starts a timer for melatonin - suppressing it during the day. Then as dusk fades into darkness, the melatonin level rises again, which induces deep restorative sleep.
Huberman says that being bathed in the sun’s rays outside is vastly superior to seeing sunlight through a window for synchronizing your internal clock to Earth’s natural light/dark planetary rhythm. Glass filters out a swath of blue light wavelengths that are essential for providing the wake-up signals the body and brain rely upon for maintaining your circadian rhythm. Huberman emphasizes that bright outdoor light coming into the eyes during the day, provided it’s not painfully bright, is excellent for boosting mood and energy level, blunting food cravings, and improving sleep.
However, Andrew also warns that we should “avoid light like the plague” during normal sleeping hours. Bright light between about 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., particularly if it happens on a regular basis, suppresses dopamine release in the brain, which predisposes to learning and memory difficulties, depression, anxiety, elevated blood sugar levels, and maybe even cancer.
10K Steps a Day Keeps the Doctor and Alzheimer’s Away
A new study published in JAMA Neurology found that taking 10,000 steps a day can slash the risk of dementia by 50%. Even getting 4,000 to 5,000 daily steps can reduce dementia risk by 25%.
The UK Biobank study involving 78,000 adults reported that regularly walking for 30 minutes at a brisk pace was linked to a 68% decrease in the risk of dementia. To be more specific, participants who walked at about 80 to 120 steps a minute, even for short periods on a regular basis, had significantly lower risks of developing dementia. My good friend Dr. Mark Freed gives his patients “marching orders” whereby he tells them to “walk like you’re running behind.”
Brisk walkers also reduce their chances of developing cancer and cardiovascular disease. An abundance of data shows that getting in the habit of walking with vigor can dramatically improve long-term health and well-being. Walking fast enhances CV health by lowering blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol, trimming waistline and body weight, and soothing emotional stress. Rather than walking indoors on a treadmill, hiking outdoors is much better for brightening mood, synchronizing your body’s internal clock, and improving sleep. Walking briskly outdoors with a friend or your dog also stimulates BDNF, which fosters new brain connections and improves cognitive abilities.
Take-home message: An outdoor exercise routine is a key habit that confers longevity and helps us age gracefully.
In Good Health,
James O'Keefe, MD