Walking and running are arguably the most accessible, effective and efficient ways to exercise your heart, lungs and legs. And although you could just hop on a treadmill and exercise while mindlessly staring at a TV, you would be much better served if you head out into the great outdoors and enjoy an al fresco workout instead.
Ditching the treadmill and exercising outdoors means you won’t be inhaling second-hand air from air-conditioning units or other exercisers, will get some much needed vitamin D from the sun and propelling yourself forward using your muscles rather than essentially walking or running on the spot is a much better form of exercise.
Now that you are (hopefully) convinced to get off the treadmill and head outside, consider the following when you are planning your next walking or running route…
When you run on a treadmill, you can simply stop whenever you feel like you have done enough. If you do this outside, you can be faced with a long walk back to where you started from! Make sure you have an idea of how far your route actually is before you head out. You can measure it in your car or on your bike or use one of the many mapping apps now available. Plan long, medium and short routes so that you can adjust your workout to how you are feeling on that particular day.
While you can run and walk on nothing but concrete and pavement, your body probably won’t thank you for it. Even the most shock-absorbing footwear won’t completely protect you from the impact associated with walking and running on roads and pavements. Give your bones a break by walking and running on more forgiving surfaces such as sand, grass, wooded trails, canal tow paths and any other off-road surfaces you can find. While the occasional road run or walk is fine, your joints and bones will thank you if you seek out routes that include at least some off road sections.
Walking and running uphill can make your workouts much more intense so seek out the terrain that best suits your current fitness level. Big hills can be demoralizing for the less fit but provide a motivating challenge for experienced walkers and runners. And, don’t forget – what goes up must come down and while going uphill is hard on your legs, heart and lungs, going downhill can be hard on your knees so take into account the severity of descents as well as ascents.
If you walk or run outdoors, you will have to deal with traffic. How much depends on where and when you exercise but even the most secluded country road will see at least a few cars. Walking and running in traffic requires good observation and hearing as well as common sense. Make sure you are easy to see by wearing bright clothing and by sticking to well-lit areas when it’s dark. Don’t block your ears with MP3 player headphones either otherwise you will not hear approaching traffic. Always face oncoming traffic so you have the best chance to get out of the way should evasive action become necessary. Wherever possible, avoid areas of high traffic, especially during peak hours where, not only do cars and trucks present a risk but so too does pollution.
Traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, gates, stiles, road junctions, fences, streams and rivers, dogs, livestock… any and all of these things can conspire to interrupt your walk or run. Obstacles can be nothing more than a minor inconvenience or present an actual physical danger but, in general, it’s worth trying and plan your running or walking route so that you encounter as few obstacles as possible. Obstacles are generally less of an issue for slow-moving walkers and more of a problem for fast-moving runners who have less time to react and change course.
The weather can affect the suitability of a walking or running route. For example, that relaxing and enjoyable walk across a high plain can become very unpleasant in the wind and driving rain. However, that same unpleasant weather is much less of an issue if you are running somewhere sheltered such as through a forest. Weather also affects the surface on which you are running. That soft and forgiving dirt path can become an impassable quagmire after heavy rain. Make sure you have routes that allow for the weather conditions of the day.
If you are training for a specific event e.g. a trail walk or a town center 5 km run, it makes sense that at least some of your workouts should be done on similar surfaces and terrain so you are properly prepared for your big day. It’s no good doing all your training for a hilly race on nothing but flat roads. If possible, recreate the route you will be competing over and then try and replicate it in training.
There is nothing wrong with just heading out on a walk and run and seeing where you end up but if you are serious about your fitness, you’ll get more out of your workouts if you follow a route. That way you’ll be able to monitor and measure your progress and compare your most recent performance with what you have done before. Seeing your performance improve over time can be very motivating.