Fitness Articles

Walking and Running Tips for City Dwellers

Get a Great Workout in an Urban Landscape

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Living in a big city can be exciting. If you reside in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago or San Francisco, you have access to some of the hottest and trendiest health clubs and group exercise classes right in your back yard. And even if you live in an urban part of Dallas, Seattle, Kansas City, Pittsburgh or any other large metropolitan area, you still have a lot of different workout options available. But what if running or walking outdoors is your favorite activity? Well, urban exercisers have to deal with the hustle and bustle of city life, which can put a damper on your exercise experience.

Urban living may give you the freedom to function without a car and easily walk to hip shopping, dining and entertainment destinations, but when you're trying to actually fit in a workout, navigating the city safely and efficiently can be a bit of a challenge. After all, you're up against pollution, traffic, possible crime, uneven sidewalks and other treacherous conditions, not to mention all the traffic and intersections that stop you multiple times mid-run.

Below are six tips for navigating the urban landscape, understanding the possible risks associated with metropolitan running and walking, and using the city to your workout's advantage!

1. Park it. This is an obvious one, but it's too important to ignore. City parks are made for running and walking! They're usually free of traffic and noise, and many parks have better-quality trails and pavement than the streets do. Thanks to fewer cars and taxis and a higher density of trees and plants, these areas are also likely to have less pollution. This is especially important because exercise increases your breathing rate, making air quality that much more important.
Stay Safe Tip: Air quality in cities is usually poorer than more rural areas because of the concentration of traffic, industry and people. In fact, a 2004 review conducted by the University of Brisbane in Australia that examined pollution studies from around the world showed that air with low concentrations of pollutants affected those exercising just as much as air with high concentrations of pollutants impacted non-exercisers. Furthermore, another study, this one published in The New England Journal of Medicine with data taken from the Women's Health Initiative, found that women who lived in areas with high air pollution—even in the form of very small particles called soot—were more likely to die of heart attacks than other women who lived in less pollutant areas. Before you work out, be sure to check the air quality forecast along with the weather. Don't exercise outside on low-quality air days, and avoid high-traffic times like rush hour. In general, air quality is better in colder weather than the hot summer months.
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About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites, and A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.

Member Comments

  • There is a trail that runs throughout where I live. It is the largest park in town and you can start/ stop wherever you want and I live 1/2 mile from it. I get a great workout riding my bike along it besides there are free bikes along the trail for anyone to use! - 2/7/2016 4:29:52 PM
  • I am lucky enough to live within a stone's throw of our high school football field and track. The track is rubberized and much easier on the joints. - 10/30/2015 9:23:30 AM
  • I take my walking back into the subdivisions behind my complex (for exercise walking). I also walk to places a lot using the sidewalk. I hate rural areas and feel much less safe because of the lack of sidewalks and traffic signals (and more people who don't keep their dogs on leashes!!) For jogging I like the parks because the trails are generally asphalt or packed dirt and not as hard as the sidewalks. Living in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area I am thankfully SURROUNDED by parks that are generally full of kids and joggers.

    I do wear earbuds but the nice thing about those is that I can take one out and leave the other one on low. I can actually hear people talking to me that way. I also keep an ear out for cyclists, although even without earbuds I find you don't always hear them (when cycling I do the polite thing and make noise if I see a pedestrian in front of me, bicycles can be ultra quiet). - 8/22/2014 1:25:14 PM
  • good suggestions. Thanks - 6/5/2014 6:46:04 AM
  • I liked the idea of looking at the city as if you were a visitor. I'm going to try that once a week. - 5/25/2014 8:00:07 PM
  • good suggestions. Thanks. - 9/18/2013 8:06:34 AM
  • My city has a "mayor's mile" skywalk. So that helps with inclement weather, and it's above the street so there's no traffic to slow you down (besides the other walkers). It connects multiple downtown buildings: the convention center, the new arena, a few hotels, a few parking garages, a food court, and a few restaurants. Since there are so many large businesses involved with lots of people around, it seems like a safer option crime-wise as well, though I still keep my eyes peeled for anything suspicious. It isn't open 24-7, but the hours of operation are pretty convenient.

    There is also a greenway to connect the parks along the river, with a pedestrian bridge that is almost completed. It's great to live in a place that uses my tax money for something that benefits us all! - 5/11/2013 5:29:20 PM
  • walking in the city is easy! lived in Chicago 14 years and walked everywhere. Walking in the country is easy, lots of open space and back roads. Walking in a crimeridden auto town is HARD. Even going to the park you need at least 2 others for safety and don't even attempt to walk the roads. (Think Flint (where I live) or Detroit...) - 5/11/2013 4:28:41 PM
  • I listen to music sometimes on the treadmill but never when walking. Earphones you can't hear when someone is coming up on you. - 5/11/2013 2:16:10 PM
  • Oh! And not wearing headphones is essential (thanks to the other commenters). Also, the new hybrid and electric vehicles are very quiet so be sure to look as well as listen! - 2/4/2013 7:41:37 PM
  • I chaired a teen driving school and this advice is the most pertinent to day-to-day life: always look where you want the car to go. That being said, drivers are often distracted and you can be one of the distractions if you're exercising on the road... That driver looking at you will head that car right on over. I will beg people to stick to the sidewalk unless there is an obstruction that forces you onto the road. Stay safe!!! And yes, I live and work outdoors in an urban environment; there is more nature out there than most people realize! - 2/4/2013 7:39:28 PM
  • Even in the suburbs you need to be aware of what is happening around you. For years I lived a block away from a street level train station in NJ. 2 deaths happened at the crossing (which included a railroad crossing light, and barrier,,,both wearing earphones). The other issue is, in the suburbs where you have TURN ON RED, you always need to be mindful of a driver who is in a hurry. Some people will make that turn even when they see a CAR, and they are almost blind to a pedestrian. - 2/4/2013 5:41:08 AM
  • I live in Pittsburgh and have found that since I work pretty much downtown, I run so much more. If you've ever been to Pittsburgh, there are bridges everywhere. My goal this summer is to cross each bridge in the general vicinity of downtown at least once. I am up to 6. After work, I head over to the Y to workout. Instead of jumping on the trolley, I head out for a nice run before step class. I also use red lights to stretch and catch my breath if I need it.

    My city-running mantra is that if I can keep going, I do. For example, I keep running through downtown until I come upon a DO NOT WALK sign. I don't stop until I have to. Also, if my intended course has me stopped but I could take a different route and not stop, I opt for that. That has really helped me to up my mileage slowly. Its like a game. Running through a city is slower so I leave it for the end of my run as a cool down. - 5/30/2012 1:31:22 PM
  • I use red light to catch my breath - yea so there's that.

    One advantage to running in the city is that there are water fountains around if you know where they are. There are also more and more greenways, you just have to watch out for the bikes.

    I'm surprised there wasn't any talk of headphones in this article as it relates to safety. - 5/30/2012 11:06:32 AM
  • This article is kind of a no-brainer. However, I did like the suggestion of using red light breaks to do squats or something else instead of jogging in place (which is what I usually do). - 3/31/2012 1:01:00 PM

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