Exercise, sleep & weight loss: 4 reasons you need to walk AND rest

If you’re having trouble losing weight by walking or hitting 10,000 steps, did you know that your sleep habits could be to blame? Sleep affects walking and weight loss in more ways than you might think. When you’re tired, you’re more likely to reach for high-calorie snacks or caffeine-filled sugary sodas. You’ll also get tired faster, and recover slower which may leave you too sore to walk after an intense walking workout.

Whether you are a fitness professional or a workout novice, you may understand that it takes more than just exercise to keep your body healthy and running optimally. Nutrition, family history, and also sleep play a significant role. Learn how better sleep gets you more steps, more sleep can lead to more weight loss (or prevent weight gain), and how walking and other forms of cardio can actually help you sleep better!

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More sleep + better sleep = more steps

Couple taking a jog in the early morning
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Getting more, good quality sleep can actually help you stay active and get more steps. Most people know that walking is a fantastic low impact workout that improves not only bone and muscle density, but also cardiovascular health, and even their mood and mental health. Yet many people don’t realize that to get the most out of these amazing walking benefits, they need to allow their body to rest.

Dr. Christopher Winter, MD, the president of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine and an author on sleeping issues, found through extensive research that a lack of sleep undermines the efficiency of your body and your exercise. Sleep allows your body to recover from exercise (and daily life), conserve energy and help build lean muscle. Getting enough sleep also ensures your body is producing enough growth hormone. According to the National Sleep Foundation, growth hormone (HGH) helps your body recover from exercise. While walking is low-impact it’s not zero impact on your body, and a constant lack of sleep (and resultant lack of recovery) can result in soreness, pain or injuries.

Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can lead to a faster feeling of exhaustion. While this is usually studied in extreme cases, most people can feel that a chronic lack of sleep can make it harder to get in that last mile of walking. Lack of sleep can also weaken your immune system, and walking with a cold is never fun and usually results in fewer steps. Being tired just isn’t a great feeling, and the more tired you are, the less likely you are to decide to get out and take those extra steps.

Sleeping can actually help with weight loss

Man staying up late eating junk food and watching internet
Stokkete / Shutterstock

If you’re hitting a weight loss plateau, one area you probably haven’t examined is your sleep quality. Lack of sleep can make it harder to keep up a brisk, intense walk. This can limit the calories you burn from walking and interfere with your weight loss plan. Lack of sleep itself, however, can contribute to weight gain.

Research from the University of Colorado has shown that as your sleep quality goes down, weight tends to go up. For most people getting poor sleep or not enough sleep, leaves them feeling hungrier and snacking more often. According to WebMD, a lack of sleep can interfere with your metabolism and leave you feeling tired, which often means you’ll reach for snacks to get more energy.

Sleep deprivation not only alters the hormones that are in charge of hunger and appetite, but it also makes you crave those high-fat foods and sugar-filled snacks. Lack of sleep increases a hormone called ghrelin (which makes you hungry) and decreases a hormone called leptin (which makes you feel full), according to USA Today. Without proper sleep, your brain isn’t able to make the best decisions and reaches for sugar, junk-food, and fatty treats. Sleep-deprived people are less active, and eat up to 300 more calories per day.

If you find yourself feeling low-energy and reaching for snacks, in addition to snacking smarter ask yourself if you’re really actually sleep-deprived. Walking is also a great way to feel energized (about as much as half a cup of coffee), so try taking a walk instead of reaching for a snack if you’re feeling tired. Walking or coffee are only temporary solutions to tiredness. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep to feel more energized and resist the urge to grab sugary snacks for energy.

Exercise actually helps with sleep

Woman tying shoes in morning ready for a jog
Pavle Bugarski / Shutterstock

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults get seven to nine hours of quality sleep a night, but for many, this is a hard goal to achieve. For those that can’t get a full night’s sleep, walking may be the solution. The National Sleep Foundation agrees that exercise (like walking) can help people get more sleep. Studies have shown that moderate activity during the day helps not only your overall health but also your ability to get a decent night’s sleep. It’s not clear how this works exactly, but when you walk can matter. Walking in the morning can help normalize your day/night cycle and help you sleep better at night. Conversely, because exercise can boost endorphins and make you feel energized (as well as raise your body temperature), exercising right before bed can make it harder to sleep.

Exercise has many impressive effects on your brain. In addition to boosting your mood and mental health, exercise can help with sleep as well. Exercise increases your level of adenosine, which is a chemical that helps you feel sleepy. Walking more can improve your sleep quality, which can in term help you burn more calories and lose that stubborn belly fat. If you do exercise after dinner or do your exercise later at night, walking is a great option that’s less intense and less likely to keep you up all night. Very high-intensity workouts can leave you with an elevated heart rate and a feeling of awakeness – even after you leave the gym. It is important to see how your body reacts to night walking, however. While walking is less intense than many exercises, night walking can still interfere with sleep for many people. If that sounds like you, try sleeping a bit earlier and going for a morning walk instead.

Lack of sleep hurts your motivation

You can probably remember a situation where you knew you shouldn’t eat an unhealthy snack, or you knew that you should take your daily walk, but you were tired and just couldn’t work up the motivation. It turns out that sleep actually does hurt your motivation, and it’s backed up by science.

A study in Sleep Science found that high-effort tasks, like preparing meals, schoolwork, or pulling over instead of driving drowsy, were more difficult when sleep deprived. For many, getting prepped and going on a walk may be one of the first tasks that get dropped. Why does this happen? Researchers believe that as you get tired, your body doesn’t function as efficiently. Your mind needs to work harder to maintain the same level of performance – even if you don’t immediately notice it. At a certain point, that extra effort you’re exerting to compensate for your tired body becomes too much and you’ll give up. Sleep deprivation can also affect long-term memory and decisionmaking, among other areas.

Being rested keeps your mind and body sharp, which helps you make the right decision to get your 30 minutes of walking daily or serve yourself proper portions. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably very motivated to get walking and get healthier. Getting better sleep ensures that when the time comes to actually get out and walk, you’ll have the willpower to start and the energy to make it through to the end. Take just a bit of the effort and energy and effort you put into walking into sleeping better and you may be surprised at the results.

Final Thoughts

Fitness goals usually involve weight loss, improved health, more energy, and a better mood. Walking is a fantastic exercise that will help you check off all of these objectives. However, without proper rest, your body will never be able to fully capitalize on all the health benefits that walking will provide. Remember, your body needs sleep not only to improve your workouts but to enhance your life in every way. Walking can actually help you sleep better, which is why a 15-minute morning walk can be so beneficial. When you make sleep a priority, your body and fitness goals will thank you!

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As you can see, walking is an excellent way to start off your day. If you haven’t downloaded the Pacer app yet, download Pacer for free (on mobile)! You can also check out our website (mobile or desktop) or follow our blog for more great walking and healthy lifestyle tips.