Be Prepared to Exercise Outside
When preparing to run, walk, or hike outside for exercise, there are many factors you should take into account and many things you should prepare for. This is especially true if you're going to be outside for a long period of time, or if you have specific exercise goals you want to achieve. Also to take into account is the time of day you'll be exercising outside, because dawn and dusk are times with the worst visibility because of low light conditions. Weather conditions and road conditions are probably the two most important aspects to consider as you exercise outdoors.
For starters, what kind of surface are you going to be on? Are you running indoors on a treadmill, on the soft astro-turf of an enclosed track, on the asphalt road, or perhaps a concrete sidewalk? Click here to read this informative article from Runner's World magazine that describes in detail the various kinds of running surfaces and how they impact your body. This article also rates each surface in terms of comfort/safety for your joints, and you may be surprised to learn that concrete surfaces (like sidewalks) scored a low 2.5 out of 10 points, meaning that it is not a desirable surface to run on. The article suggests finding any other surface (other than concrete) to run on, if possible.
If you're running, you should also think about if you're wearing the proper type of running shoes for your gait. Why is this even important? Well, the proper shoe is the difference between being a happy, healthy, injury-free exerciser, and an injury-prone, tired, and hurt one. The proper shoe will help prevent all sorts of injuries and soreness, including your back muscles, legs, neck, pelvis, and even your feet.You may want to go to a specialty running store and have your gait and running style evaluated by a professional. Do you have high or low arches? Do you overpronate, underpronate, or have a neutral footfall? Do you need arch-supportive shoes (called "stability" shoes), or more cushioned shoes? The running store associate will be able to fit you with the correct shoe for your experience level, body type, weight, arch support level, and foot width. For a visual example of the different types of pronation, click here.
You may need to adjust your gait or stride depending on the terrain. For example, if you are running downhill, uphill, or on uneven terrain (like a broken sidewalk), you will probably want to shorten your stride and take smaller steps. This will help you not to trip and to perform at your peak when ascending or descending hills. Here is an article that will explain the mechanics and proper form of running on hilly terrain.
Be aware of your surroundings. For example, are you alone on a dark street with little lighting? You may want to take another route to a more well-lit area. Are there dogs who may chase you? What do you do if an aggressive dog comes barreling towards you or your child? Click here for advice on what to do when a dog comes running at you. Is there a lot of traffic or construction which will make it unsafe for you to be on the road? Be aware of all these factors, keep alert, and this will contribute to your safety.
There are set laws and standards concerning running and biking on roads, and you need to know them. Please read about how you should always run against on-coming traffic (if there are no sidewalks), and bike with the flow of traffic here. It is law to bike with the flow of traffic, but also strongly encouraged to run against the flow of traffic, for everyone's safety.
Some people advise road runners & walkers not to listen to music while they exercise, because not being able to hear traffic compromises their safety. It is possible to exercise safely while listening to music, but it will require you to be much more alert and constantly surveying your surroundings. You may not be able to hear ambulance sirens or someone yelling. If you must listen to music while outside, then I strongly suggest keeping the volume to a level where you can still hear traffic noises around you.
Think about weather conditions and the duration of your run. If it's cold, will you need to wear extra-warm layers with gloves and leg warmers? The experts say that it's always wise to wear layers that will keep you toasty warm, but that you can easily shed later when you warm up.
You should always have sunscreen with you in your essentials bag for outside fun, even if the sun does not seem very bright that day. Experts have proven that it's not just the sun's intensity that damages skin, but the intensity of the UV rays. It may be overcast but still have a high intensity of UV rays, and those are what damage the skin. Click here to read an article about minimizing your skin's exposure to UV rays. Wearing a hat that adequately covers your face and scalp, and that shades your eyes is also a must, as is UV rated sunglasses! "Fashion" sunglasses that look cool but don't actually protect your eyes are no good.
If your outdoor adventures will last longer than 30 minutes, and especially if you're not sure exactly where you may be headed, or what the weather is up to, you should probably bring a "bag of essentials" that contains a small first aid kit, a healthy snack with protein & carbohydrates (like a handful of almonds), extra bottles of water, a GPS, compass, or map, a cell phone for emergencies, and even some pepper spray, which will deter dogs or people. If you're heading out into the woods, you may even want to bring a fire-starter kit with you, and tell someone (like a next door neighbor) where exactly you're going and when exactly you expect to be home, so they can notify the authorities if you don't return in a timely manner. This all may sound a bit extreme, but when it comes to the personal safety of you & your loved ones, isn't it better to be safe than sorry? If you still don't believe me, click here to read the incredible, harrowing story of an extremely fit ultra-runner who lay injured in a canyon for days before her dog, Taz, led rescuers to her, saving her life.
Are you focusing on your run, bike, or hike performance? Are you trying to meet a time or distance goal? If you have specific goals in mind, you will probably need to bring a watch, stopwatch, heart rate monitor, or a GPS to suit your needs. These devices will let you know if you are meeting your goals or not. But if you are just outside running or walking for leisure, then you may only need a watch. You be the judge and decide what your goals are, then choose your equipment accordingly.
With safety forefront on your mind, you may want to invest in a form of easy identification, in case you are in an accident while outside and cannot speak or call 911. This "Road ID" will have your personal & medical information on it, so the paramedics will know how to treat you quickly. Go to Road ID's site to check out all their products, including ID bracelets, clip-on flashing lights, shoe pockets, and more!
Here's a great article called "Safe Kids" and it discusses ways to keep your children safe around streets and traffic, like making sure they're wearing reflective clothing in low light conditions (namely at dawn and dusk), enclosing their play areas with a fence, and teaching them about proper pedestrian crossing rules, so they can cross busy streets safely. Even though this article discusses mostly children's safety, some items are important for adults too.
Above all, your safety should be your number one priority. Do your research, make the preparations, and stay alert out there! As my husband's martial arts class teaches: the best way to stay safe is to be alert, know how to save/protect yourself, and avoid putting yourself in compromising situations to begin with!
Yes, bad things still happen to good, prepared folks, and that's a horrible thing, but those that are prepared have many more "weapons of knowledge" at their disposable than those who are not prepared, and will likely stay safer because of that knowledge. No one will help keep you safe as much as you can!