When finding the right walking route, pay close attention to the surface. A lot of walkers say grass or packed dirt is the very best surface for walking. These surfaces are soft, so they are good for shock absorption.
Ideally, the surface should be smooth enough to allow you to walk as fast as you want without tripping or twisting an ankle. If the grass or dirt is too clumpy, it won't provide good enough traction and you may stumble or fall. With a little exploration, you can usually find some strip of grass or other unpaved surface on which you can walk.
Walking on a sandy beach is very enjoyable. You can even do it barefoot -- but you need to watch out for sharp shells or other debris. Walking on soft sand or dirt can increase the energy you expend -- and the calories you burn -- by as much as one third. It also provides the muscles in the feet with more of a workout, particularly if you walk barefoot.
If you can't find a soft, springy surface to use, pavement is an alternative. One good thing about pavement is that you don't have to travel far to find it. But it does have its drawbacks.
Most foot and leg problems are either caused or aggravated by walking on hard surfaces like concrete and asphalt. Wearing good, shock-absorbing walking shoes can help you avoid injury.
Hills and Stairs
Walking up hills and stairs burns extra calories and raises your heart rate more than freestyle walking does at the same speed on a flat surface. Thus, it does an even better job of helping you control your weight and build your aerobic capacity.
It also provides more of a workout for the large muscles in the buttocks and the muscles in the front of the thighs, which are responsible for lifting the legs, climbing, and pushing off.
With the heightened benefits of walking on hills and stairs comes an increase in your risk of injury. Some simple adjustments in your walking technique can help you hold down this risk.
For instance, while walking uphill, walk slightly slower, lean forward, and swing your arms more vigorously to increase your climbing power. Downhill walking is even harder on the bones and joints, and its high impact forces can aggravate joint problems and cause muscle soreness. To minimize the shock, shorten the length of your stride.
If you have trouble finding stairs or hills that you can climb, you can simulate this activity if you have access to an exercise machine called a stair-climber or to a treadmill that allows you to adjust the incline of its running bed; check a local gym or health club.
Cities, Suburbs, and Beyond
The ideal outdoor walking route is a course with a smooth, soft surface that doesn't intersect with traffic. For that reason, parks are excellent walking areas for urban dwellers.
Parks usually offer soft surfaces like grass and packed dirt to walk on. In addition, they are often secluded from traffic's noise and toxic emissions.
If it's allowed, you might also try walking along the perimeter of a local public golf course. You'll need to stay alert for stray golf balls, though.
There's another thing you can do to have an enjoyable walk, even if you're not surrounded by trees, grass, and fresh air. Find an old residential neighborhood with beautiful houses or historic buildings that can turn an ordinary walk into an architectural tour. Some historic areas even offer guided walking tours.
Be sure that you don't get carried away by the sights, however, and neglect to watch where you're going.
If you walk in an urban area, try to stay away from traffic lights and congested areas. A lot of stop-and-go walking can cause you to lose momentum and break your stride. It can also decrease the aerobic benefits you get from your walks by allowing your heart rate to drop out of your target range.
If your urban or suburban route is dotted with traffic lights, however, don't just stand still when the light is red. Instead, try walking in place until it turns green. This will keep your heart rate up while you wait.
If you live in a rural area, you'll have a wider selection of peaceful, grassy walking routes. Paths that border rivers and streams or encircle lakes can make pleasant walking routes, as long as they're not too muddy or slippery. If you follow a narrow rural road, however, you'll need to stay alert for ditches and fast-approaching vehicles.
If you choose a field or hilly area, watch out for holes and other stumbling blocks. Be sure to read about walking safety at the end of this article, especially if you'll be walking in the evening or early morning when lack of light can be a hazard.
Check out the next section to find out more about mall walking.
To learn more about walking, see: