running in the dark

Women in Devon How Do You Feel About Exercising in the Dark Winter Evenings?

With leisure centres, gyms, and sports clubs closed during this second national lockdown, many of us are once again going outside for our daily exercise. However, this lockdown is different because the season has changed and we face shorter days and longer nights.

Exercising Outside in the Winter Evenings… Simple? Or is it More Complicated Than First Thought?

For some, the change in daylight hours will not give them a second thought, nor affect their existing exercise routine. But for others in our society, this is just not the case. Through conversations, and surveys we know that for many women, going out into the dark alone to exercise causes feelings of anxiety. Or fears over their safety.

Caroline, who lives in Devon, would normally go to the gym to keep fit after work:

“Going to the gym helps me to feel good about myself. I never leave the gym wishing I hadn’t gone! I get a sense of accomplishment and the group exercise classes keep me motivated, and we support each other.” Caroline says.

When lockdown two was announced, Caroline decided to set a challenge, to run a certain distance whilst the gym would be closed.

Running After Work in the Dark is Not an Easy Decision for Some Women

Caroline explains how her first run on a November evening made her feel:

“I was out running on a well-lit pathway and I came to a place where the light dimmed, and it soon became pitch black. I instantly didn’t feel safe. My senses were heightened and I was on high alert. As a woman I did not want to feel this vulnerable out on my run. I persevered and didn’t stop.

Not giving up on running in the dark, I did another trial run with a few accessories this time. I wore a baseball cap to protect my eyes from low hanging branches. My cap then doubled up as a perfect light holder for my headtorch. I also bought a running belt that sat across my chest that held my phone in an easily accessible position and doubled up as a high-vis. Keeping to well-lit pathways I enjoy my evening run’s, especially when I get to drag a friend out with me. “

Caroline running outside in the dark winter evenings

So, What Can We Do?

There are many reasons that can make people fear being outside in the dark alone. As the season changes and daylight hours draw in, it can expose multiple vulnerabilities for those wanting to exercise outside.

We recognise there is no immediate, easy solution to this because the feeling of being safe in the dark is a complex social problem. Providing an opportunity though for open and honest conversations about these concern’s is a step in the right direction.

Plus, we have some suggestions that could help.

If you are worried about exercising in the dark, firstly look to see if you can go at a different time in the day. Start by having a chat with your boss to see if you can take an extended lunch break. Your boss may even allow you to start a little later to fit your exercise session in with the daylight hours.

You do not need to go out for long time either. 15-20 minutes of exercise outside in the fresh air is plenty to feel the effects of being a little out of breath.

Have You Got a Friend That You Can Exercise With?

Different to the last lockdown, the latest government guidelines in England say that you can exercise outdoors with members of your household or one person outside of your household, if you socially distance. This means you could exercise with a friend. Plus, you could be helping your friend to be active by asking them to go with you.

If you want to go out in an evening and there isn’t someone to join you, you can let someone know where you are going and how long you will be out for. If you are not back, when you should be, they can raise an alarm for you.

Be careful with tracking apps too. Make sure privacy settings are in place so routes and regular exercise times are not visible and try not to run or walk the same route at the same time.

Also plan your route depending on your situation. If you are on your own, stick to well-lit routes.

Plus, you could purchase a head torch and some high visibility clothing like Caroline, to help you see and be seen by others – especially cars if you live in more rural areas of Devon.

Being the Winter, it Could Be Cold and Wet Outside

We live in a beautiful part of the Country, but not every winter day is going to be appealing. The wind, rain, hail, and snow on our face can sometimes just be too much to handle. On those days, there can always be an option to do a home workout indoors.

Plus, when our general mood is lower it is even more important to get up and move. Doing a little bit of exercise might be just what you need to feel better.

We would also love to hear your views about exercising outside in the dark, so please do get in touch.

This article is written by Louise Evans – Programmes Manager Leading on Working Age and Women and Girls at Active Devon