A daily stroll is a simple way to turn up your metabolism and burn calories without going to a gym. A 30-minute walk at a modest 3.5 mph pace can work off up to 160 calories (for a 140-pound woman). If you don’t have a pedometer to help you determine if you’re at a going calorie-burning pace, just think about how fast you’d walk if you were late for appointment. Or try talking–you should be able to answer a question, but not hold a conversation.
Walking for exercise is just about as risk-free as you can get, but there are still a few safety precautions you can take. Remember these safety rules for walkers whenever you head out to hit the pavement:
1. Keep your head up. You need to be aware of obstacles in your path, but that doesn’t mean you should be looking at your feet. Instead, raise your chin up and look about 10 feet ahead of you. Your peripheral vision can still see the sidewalk, but you will be better able to anticipate and react to anything in your path. Plus, holding your head up makes breathing easier and helps you maintain good posture.
2. Be aware of pain. Walking should tire you out and maybe leave you a little sore when you start a regular program. But any kind of pain in your joints, chest, or head pain is a serious concern that should be shared with your family doctor as soon as possible.
3. Face the traffic. If your routes do not have sidewalks or other pathways separate from the road, walk so you can see vehicles coming at you, advises the Centers for Disease Control in its walking safety guidelines.
4. Dress to be seen. Wear reflective clothing or bright colors like shocking-pink or brilliant orange so that you will be noticed. Many brands of walking shoes have reflective material on them, but if yours doesn’t, you can put on a reflective belt or vest over your clothing. No reflective gear and your clothes are dark? Keep a white T-shirt handy, suggests the University of Illinois Wellness Center, and just slip on over your outfit while you walk.
5. Walk defensively. Pretend you are invisible and assume drivers don’t see you. Before you cross a street in front of a car, make eye contact with drivers in stopped vehicles to confirm that they’ve noticed you, recommends the AAA Auto Club.
6. Steer clear. Avoid potential problem areas where lots of traffic is coming and going and other distractions can keep drivers from noticing you. Entrances and exits of busy parking lots are particularly troublesome spots.
7. Listen for cues. Music and podcasts can help keep you moving, but they can also prevent you from hearing people, bikes, and vehicles approaching you, exposing you to last-minute collisions. If you really want to listen as you go, turn the volume down so you can hear your fingers snap or use only one earbud.
8. Carry ID. Bring along an expired driver’s license or some other form of identification so if you are injured or otherwise incapacitated, your emergency contacts can be reached. AAA also suggests setting up an ICE (“in case of emergency”) contact in your mobile phone, so your family can be reached quickly, if needed.
9. Prepare for self-defense. Of course, learning martial arts will help you feel safe, but carrying a noisemaker, such as a whistle or small air horn, can attract attention in a time of trouble and often will scare off potential assailants who prefer to work silently. If you want more direct protection, get a can of pepper spray and practice using it so you’ll be prepared if you need to spray it.
10. Bring a partner. Not only will you be safer with a companion, the miles will pass faster as you spend time with a friend or family member. If you don’t have a partner (or your companion is a dog), let someone know when and where you walk so you are missed if you don’t return promptly.