As a woman with an anxious streak, I’ve always shied away from running outdoors at night, even in my sheltered suburban neighborhood. Though a jog in the fresh air of a spring evening sounds invigorating, fear for my physical safety typically keeps me squarely on my garage treadmill, sawing away the miles with a lawnmower for a view. And I’m not the only one with hesitations about nighttime running: Nearly half of American women report fearing walking alone in their own neighborhoods after dark. These numbers have improved since the earliest days this data was collected (in 1973, around 60 percent of women reported such anxiety), and thankfully violent crime has fallen more than many of us realize over the last quarter century. Yet many women still feel nighttime exercise in the great wide open isn’t a safe bet.

While running at night may come with some inherent risks (as does running outdoors at any hour), our fears don’t have to keep us tied to the treadmill. Women can become empowered by developing a self-defense mindset and implementing certain important safety guidelines. For some tips on how to make this a reality, we chatted with self-defense expert Denise Rejent-Lee of Strong and Safe Women’s Self-Defense and Fitness. Rejent-Lee emphasizes awareness and boundary-setting as critical first lines of defense for reducing risk around nighttime running. Here are her top recommendations for incorporating these practices into your exercise regimen.

Two women run across a bridge in the evening

1. Get a buddy. Safety in numbers! Running with a friend not only boosts your security on a nighttime run — it works accountability into your exercise routine. If you can’t find a friend to join you, run with a dog. (No reason your pet can’t get fit too! If you don’t have a dog of your own, there’s probably a friend or neighbor who’d be grateful their buddy is getting the extra activity.)

2. Stand out. Every runner knows that one key element of safety is simply being seen. Wearing reflective gear when running at night can help you stand out to passersby. These days, reflective accessories don’t have to make you look like a school crossing guard or construction worker: A simple lit armband or head lamp will do the trick.

3. Sharing is (and isn’t) caring. Another individual’s awareness of your activity can add an extra layer of protection to your run. “Make sure a trusted friend, neighbor, or family member knows where you are going and approximately when you expect to return,” recommends Rejent-Lee. On the other hand, sharing your running plans broadly on social media isn’t the wisest choice. While you may believe your online audience to be trustworthy, can you really vouch for everyone in it? Use caution before broadcasting your whereabouts during a nighttime run.

4. Get packing. While you don’t want to allow your phone to distract you from your surroundings, taking it along on a run is a best practice, on the off chance you should need to make an emergency call. Don’t leave home without an ID, either. Rejent-Lee also suggests women runners “think in terms of everyday items that can be used as weapons. A cell phone is a good striking tool, as are certain key chains or sprays designed for self-defense purposes (if you’re trained and prepared).”

A woman runs by a river at night

5. Mix it up. Running the same path night after night doesn’t just make for a boring workout: It’s potentially dangerous. By taking the same route each time, you might unwittingly be giving advance notice of your presence to someone you don’t want to have that information. If someone or something in your own neighborhood makes you uneasy, you might also try moving your run to a different location, such as another neighborhood — just be sure to scope out your route ahead of time so nothing takes you by surprise.

6. Practice self-defense. There’s no better way to equip yourself for safety than to take a self-defense course. Many situations — not just nighttime running — call for increased awareness, and you never know when the ability to physically defend yourself might come in handy.

7. Stay alert, and trust your instincts. Rejent-Lee stresses the importance of staying aware of the environment at all times when running after dark. Stashing your phone in your pocket, leaving earbuds out of your ears, and constantly scanning your surroundings can all minimize risk and keep you informed about what’s going on around you. And don’t hesitate to listen to your gut. “We are too quick to discount our intuition about people, places, or situations when they warn us of danger,” says Rejent-Lee.

Got some solid strategies for running safely at night? Tweet us at @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)

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