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Fitness Articles  ›  Exercise Basics

Choosing a Walking or Running Route

On the Road to Fitness

-- By Rebecca Pratt, Staff Writer
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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.
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About The Author

Rebecca Pratt Rebecca Pratt
A freelance writer who contributes to various newspapers and magazines, Becky loves covering ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Member Comments

  • "use sidewalks whenever possible" ...my husband (DH) says that on his very early AM trips to work (dark out), he frequently comes close to joggers on the roads where there ARE sidewalks. They are running WITH traffic, and he feels like they are setting themselves up to get hit. What's the deal???!

    Out here on the rural roads, there are no shoulders, just ditches. It really isn't possible to get off the road every time a car goes by. Cars don't much give a care if there is a car going both ways. -- I find that walking with nordic poles seems to cause the cars to move over and give me space. - 4/5/2014 10:42:26 PM
  • Portland Oregon has the Waterfront, has lot of Parks. some with Walking Trails and other places to walk. Get our and Enjoy the Nice Weather this Summer. God Blessings to Everyone. Have a Wonderful Week. Take Care. Hugs!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    !!!!!!


    - 6/13/2013 6:10:41 AM
  • I have a lovely park with all the things mentioned...chang
    ing seasons, a lake, a river (with a walking bridge across it), lots of people to chat with, and it is just a 2 mile bike ride away. - 10/21/2012 11:20:11 PM
  • The article had many interesting tips. I live out in the country so to pick scenic routes to walk would mean me driving. I live on a street that is several miles long, flat & hilly that I can walk on when I don't have time to go somewhere. - 10/21/2012 6:41:55 PM
  • AEO_SUNSHINE
    I used to try walking 'every day' but found that I kept postponing throughout the day 'til it was too late!!! Then I joined a MEETUP group and now have walking buddies - sure makes the walk enjoyable. We walk daily at 8:30 am for an hour - home by 9:45. Also found a Meetup Nordic group and walk on Saturday morning with them.

    There are many meetup groups out there - or maybe start you own!

    - 10/21/2012 2:02:08 PM
  • DAWNLEO
    I have been trying to find when you first start walking how long do I wakling for??? - 9/11/2012 10:42:47 PM
  • A couple of times I have had to google abbreviations. I know it is part of the texting world...but cannot find DH. What does that mean? As for walking, I just bought a pedometer to try and GET me on track (haha). I do have a great neighborhood to walk in, small town with great shops and cafes and a park with walking trails. I just need to do it! I am so frustrated with the scale going up and down the same four pounds every other week. Ugh. - 8/17/2012 7:40:17 AM
  • Very good tips, especially concerning the terrain. I used to run only on a track, but it eventually got boring and stopped challenging me. Now I have a routine where I run straight from my house to a school track nearby and eventually run back. I love having changing scenery as well as the challenge of such hilly terrain (there are are both very steep and gently sloping hills). It comes to a little over 3.5 miles, but I can easily add on more mileage at the track. If I get bored, I can switch up my path or add another neighborhood on. =D - 7/28/2012 11:05:19 AM
  • very good article and if I go anywhere; walking is what I have to do or wait a friend to come and see if I need anything from the store. I do most of my walking in the house, around the yard , or to the mailbox and back. - 7/28/2012 12:44:43 AM
  • GRANNYELM
    I tired walking in my neighbor but because on uneven ground, dogs, safety, I stopped. Tried the treadmill and that, most definetly, isn't my thing. One morning I drove to our local mall, it is open before store hours and I have so enjoyed working there along with other walkers. The temp is good, other people around you, conversation, and you get to window shop with no temptation--the stores are closed!! - 5/1/2012 12:48:53 PM
  • You completely left out mall-walking!

    It's good to go to the mall to walk because there's safety in numbers, and because the level surface is good for your joints and prevents injuries, and it's always fairly clean. Some hospitals promote mall-walking for their patients to begin a wellness program. It's something to consider, even if you don't think malls are cool. Don't always avoid the mall, you could get a workout in, while looking around. And in the summer, when you feel it's too hot to workout, bear in mind that the mall is air conditioned. - 4/6/2012 3:51:01 AM
  • BADCHULO
    I am lucky in that where I live I am close enough to the ocean or the mountains... I can choose which area I would like to walk in when I go for a long walk on the weekends... do I want to see pretty beaches, rocks and the ocean..?? Or am I in the mood for some pine trees and wildlife? (Of course, during the work week I just walk / jog around my neighborhood... I try to go in different directions though). I take my camelback with me for water on longer walks on the weekend to keep my hands free... - 8/26/2011 12:06:43 PM
  • JRDURKA
    I would really like to see safety emphasized more in this article. I frequently run before dawn or around dusk in the summer months when it's too hot to run during the day. I have a reflective vest and wear Road ID in case of an accident. Drivers are frequently not careful and no matter who has the right of way, a human body will not win in a battle with a car. So please stay safe and enjoy yourselves out there!!! - 8/15/2011 8:55:02 AM
  • When I walk, and it is my favorite form of activity, I try to take a different route each time just so I dont get bored looking at the same thing all the time. - 8/10/2011 8:49:02 AM
  • Two days ago we had a terrible experience on a very narrow country road with a walker who was walking WITH the traffic inside the white line on edge of road. As DH attempted to go around person, vehicle came very fast in opposite direction, around a curve and down a grade. There was no choice but to get back in our lane, hit brakes and horn simultaneously, but the walker never flinched and elbow hit our right side mirror, shattering it.
    Of course we stopped, but the walker would not talk to us and kept right on walking, holding elbow.
    We traveled several more miles before spotting a sheriff to report incident. We were in a low area where cell phones did not work. I won't go into the rest of the details but want to emphasize: ALWAYS WALK AGAINST THE TRAFFIC, NEVER WITH IT!!!
    I walk country roads and ALWAYS get off the road completely when a vehicle comes by. I even stop until they are gone. - 7/22/2011 2:26:01 PM
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