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Choosing a Walking or Running Route

On the Road to Fitness
  -- By Rebecca Pratt, Staff Writer

Fitness can be incredibly simple. Sometimes, the most effective workouts don't need celebrity spokespeople or a payment plan. Walking and running are excellent ways to stay in shape year-round. These basic workouts are convenient, feasible almost anywhere, and require only a good pair of shoes- all you need is a place to go!

Depending on the time of year, as well as your fitness goals, you can map out a route to suit your needs. Some things to consider include:

The Scenic Route
Don’t underestimate the motivation of a scenic route—enjoying your surroundings will make your walk or run more fun, and keep you coming back for more. The variety of changing seasons and new routes are advantages of exercising outdoors, although practical considerations sometimes require some indoor workouts. Some research suggests that simply being outdoors, especially in more "natural" surroundings, has a positive effect on your health.

Look for routes that include green spaces such as parks, woodlands, and the countryside, as well as waterside walks along lakes, rivers, canals and the beach. In cities, look for tree-lined streets with interesting buildings, attractive public open spaces, and low traffic roads. You may even want to use a "promoted route," such as a bike path, that’s been designed for fitness pursuits and displays distance increments for you.

To measure the distance you’ve gone on any route, consider using a pedometer.

Terrain Variety
Keep in mind that the most effective routes for walking/running are those with varied terrain: flat levels for a brisk but steady pace; gentle hills for a challenge; and steep slopes, which are more demanding on the way up and require better balance on the way down. Walking up a hill with 15% slope uses about a third more energy than walking on a flat surface, while walking downhill takes about the same energy as walking on level ground-- unless the hill is very steep, in which case your muscles must work harder to keep your balance.

Ground Surface
Contact with a poor ground surface is one of the five leading causes of injury for outdoor exercisers. The best surfaces for both walking and running are uniform, cushioned surfaces such as grass or loose granular tracks. Uneven, yielding or sticky surfaces, such as rough stony ground, mud, or sand, take more work and concentration, and will likely slow you down, especially if hidden by grass or other vegetation. Especially if you have bone or joint problems, you’ll want to avoid hard surfaces like asphalt, concrete, and rocky gravel. Minimize your risk of injury by wearing good quality shoes with proper cushioning, support, and traction for those slick spots.

Water Stops and Resting Places
When possible plan a route that has water stops: park fountains, spigots outside buildings, neighbor’s hoses, or your own. Consider an "out and back" circuit in your neighborhood that allows you to stop at home for a quick drink, or carry water with you. On hot, humid days, look for ways to get wet: pass through a sprinkler or splash yourself from a water fountain or tap.

Even experienced walkers and runners can sometimes use a rest; novice walkers even more so. Routes with seats, shelters, or café stops may be welcome respites that allow you to re-hydrate before you push on. If you’re working out in hot weather, you may also want to pick a shady route that’s cooler and provides protection from a broiling sun.

Safety
Last but not least, always consider safety. Avoid high-crime or deserted areas, but also look for areas that are not overly congested, either with cars or other types of traffic such as roller-bladers or cyclists. Wear light-colored clothes or reflectors so that drivers can see you, walk or run facing traffic, and use sidewalks whenever possible. Employ the buddy system—especially during the early morning and late evening hours.