"A lot of people find fall to be an excellent time to jump-start an exercise plan," says Shan James, a fitness expert. "It's a perfect time to get your body moving because the humidity and temperature are more comfortable than in summer or winter, and there's still some daylight when you finish work or school." If you like working toward a goal, many communities schedule walks, races and family fitness events (often for charitable causes) during the fall.
Revving up your physical activity now can also pay dividends as winter comes on by fighting the hibernation mentality that sets in as daylight dwindles, says Cedric Bryant, PhD, exercise physiologist. "Some people find that without fresh air and light, the change in season can lead to the consumption of more calories," says Bryant.
Still, with fall's nippy air and loss of light, it's important to stay both comfortable and safe. Here are some simple steps to minimize discomforts and dangers:
Start reflecting. Don't just trust the reflectors on shoes or bikes to make you visible to motorists when you're out at twilight or later. "You really need something that closely corresponds to a driver's line of sight," says Bryant. Best bet: light-coloured clothing topped with a vest made of reflective material or crossed with reflective tape. "Make especially sure you have reflective material on your back," says James.
Bear with glare. The sun slants more in fall, so keep in mind that when the light is at your back, it's in the eyes of oncoming drivers. Try to stay off busy streets, and face traffic when on foot so you can see what's coming. Wear shades to cut glare.
Get a partner. Walking, jogging or pedaling with a companion not only makes you more likely to stick with a program, it makes you more visible to motorists.
Spend more time warming up. If you usually skip a warm-up, start by taking at least five minutes to do some light exercise such as easy walking before your main workout. Your body's core maintains a steady temperature, but muscles, tendons and ligaments will be colder in cool air. "That means it takes longer for them to warm up and become more pliable to protect against injury," says Bryant.
Dress in layers. Get off to a warm start wearing a T-shirt made of a material that wicks sweat away from skin (not cotton). Top that with breathable items such as a fleece vest and/or a sweatshirt or windbreaker (and don't forget gloves and a hat if it's nippy enough). That way, you can remove clothing to prevent getting too warm and fatiguing faster.