By Erin Palinski-Wade

When you choose to walk outdoors, you open yourself up to more variables than if you were to walk indoors, say, on a treadmill. Conditions can change day to day with outdoor walking, which is part of the fun! One day may be chilly and the next day warm. One day the sun may shine brightly whereas the next day you may get hammered by rain.

If you decide to walk outdoors on a regular basis, consider the factors that will vary from day to day so you can be prepared and won’t have to skip a workout.

The terrain

A paved road, a quiet sidewalk, or a dirt path are all options when walking outdoors; however, each has its benefits and challenges. Sidewalks can be uneven at times, which can increase the risk of tripping and falling. A paved road allows for street traffic from cars, bikes, and motorcycles, requiring you to obey traffic laws and pay attention to where you are walking to avoid any collisions.

Dirt paths often wind through grassy or wooded areas. Trails such as these can help to absorb the impact of your foot striking the ground, placing less pressure on your knees and feet. However, uneven terrain and even puddles from rainwater can increase the risk of falls. Wherever you walk, make sure to pay attention to your surroundings and keep an eye on the road ahead.

Your safety

You are walking to improve your health and to lose weight; however, if you’re not cautious during your walking workout, you may increase your risk of injury or even harm your health. Before heading outdoors on a walk, plan your route.

Make sure you know where you are headed and how to get there and get back. Tell a friend or family member where and when you are walking in case they need to reach you. If you’ll be walking in an isolated area, make sure to bring your cellphone with you in case of an emergency.

When walking outdoors, coming into contact with animals, extreme weather, and even strangers are all possibilities. It’s always best to expect the best but plan for the worst. Walking sticks, noisemakers, and cellphones are all great tools if you find yourself needing to scare off an animal, call for directions or help, or even to keep your balance if you’re walking on uneven terrain.

Depending on the time of day you choose to walk, keep in mind that you want to be visible, especially if you’re walking in a high traffic area. Wear bright colors and reflective apparel when it’s dark outside. Make sure to walk on the sidewalk or the shoulder of the road and, most of all, always stay alert.