Light up your nighttime workouts

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The winter solstice is fast approaching — Dec. 21, the shortest day of the year — and that means less sunlight for runners, walkers, bikers and others who like to exercise outdoors. Already, the end of daylight saving time has brought on nightfall an hour earlier, darkening bike paths, jogging trails and parks.

But don’t sweat it. Moving your workout routine indoors is not the only alternative. You have options: There’s a whole slew of products, from clothing to headlamps to specially-designed bikes and balls, that can help you see where you’re going in the dark and, importantly, help you be seen by passing motorists and fellow fitness buffs.

Be visible

The number one thing when you’re working out at night is to be seen, Bicycling magazine senior editor Gloria Liu told CBS News.

“It’s absolutely crucial to have a light, but especially on a bicycle because we’re in the road for the most part of the time with cars. You want your bike to be as visible as any other vehicle out there, with headlights and taillights,” said Liu.

When it comes to bike lights, many cities require bicycles have reflectors, but Liu recommends also using battery-powered lights because they don’t rely on car headlights for visibility and they can be seen from much farther away. 

In a taillight, you want something red.

“That’s what people tend to associate with taillights in traffic. If it’s flashing, it’ll be more visible than a solid red light,” said Liu.

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Light & Motion’s Urban 350 headlight illuminates the path ahead for bikers.

Light & Motion

Make sure it has enough lumens — a measure of brightness — to be visible from a distance. You should aim for at least 20 lumens, though some lights go up to 50 lumens.

In a headlight, you’re looking for something that makes you visible to cars and other exercisers, but also a lamp that lets you see the path in front of you, to help you avoid potholes and curbs, for example.

Headlights are most commonly attached to a helmet or the handlebar.

Liu recommends a headlight with 300 to 400 lumens. She personally likes the Bontrager ion 350, about $60. Another favorite: Light & Motion’s Urban 350, which runs about $50. Both are USB rechargeable.

“While visibility is certainly an issue at night, if you’re riding responsibly and taking all the precautions, we have a right to be on the road at the same time as anybody else,” Liu said.

Reflective everything

When it comes to your workout clothes, don’t wear black, recommends Runner’s World gear editor Jeff Dengate.

“It sounds obvious, but you can’t be seen,” Dengate told CBS News, noting that a lot of running tights and jackets come in black.

“It’s the color we’ve always worn and it’s easy to keep clean,” he said, so if you’re really attached to your black tights, be sure they have reflective markings, pair them with a white or light-colored top and bring along a light.

A lot of athletic clothing designers build reflective materials into their tights, tops, jackets, and even gloves — typically the more high-end companies.

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Lululemon’s Reflective Splatter collection was designed for runners, to increase visibility when they’re out at dusk or dawn. The Speed Tight sells for $298. The collection also includes a racerback shirt, shorts and a bra.

Lululemon

“Lululemon and Nike have made leggings, stretchy pants, where the whole lower leg has reflection,” said Dengate.

Less expensive brands may offer budget-friendly options but one of the ways they may have cut corners is by skipping the reflective materials, so it’s important to check before buying clothing for nighttime workouts.

Over time, even good reflective materials may wash off.

And pay attention to where the reflective markings are located. Cars headlight are angled down toward the road, so if you’re running alongside traffic, a reflective vest isn’t going to cut it.

“Reflective vests don’t work as well as we might hope they would. Even better is a blinking light or having that reflectivity down on your legs,” said Dengate.

A blinking light — similar to those used by cyclists — can be worn around the waist facing forward (as a headlight) or backward (to make you more visible). Some vests have a light built into the back of the vest.

Reflectors on shoes aren’t enough to catch a driver’s eye — they take up very little real estate. Runners and walkers who enjoy going out at night can try light clips on the shoes to increase lower body visibility.

Dengate owns a Nathan’s LightSpur LED Foot Light, a horseshoe-shaped light that clips to the heels of running shoes and can be set on flash or steady mode. It’s lightweight, gives about 40 hours of illumination and is powered by replaceable watch batteries.

“It’s moving because it’s on the back of the leg. Anything flashing or moving is going to get people’s attention better than a steady light,” he said.

Adidas introduced two new limited edition glow-in-the-dark sneakers in September — the Ultra Boost and the Adizero Prime Glow.

For people who don’t want to spend a lot, you can always purchase reflective tape and stick it onto clothes before you head out.

Be aware, too, that some bike and running races held at night require reflective clothing and lights, and consider their rules as useful guidelines. Ragnar relay races, for example, which take place over two days and one night, require racers to be outfitted with a reflective vest, a rear blinker and a headlamp 30 minutes before sunset, said Dengate.

Glowing equipment

From Frisbees to soccer balls to a bike chassis, light-up sports equipment is available to make after-dark fitness brighter. For example, Mission Bikes sells MonkeyLectric glow-in-the-dark LED light strips. The weatherproof lights mount to bicycle spokes and come in different colors. Powered by 3 AA batteries, a set runs for $26. The same company also makes a highly reflective bike frame that glows at night called the Lumen.

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The Lumen bike glows at night by reflecting back any light, such as headlights or street lamps. It’s made by Mission Bicycle Company, in San Francisco, California.

Mission Bicycle Company

Liu said, “A lot of bikes have integrated lighting and reflective paint.”

But she said she’s still waiting for the perfect night-friendly bike helmet.

“There are helmets that have integrated lighting, but I have not yet seen a good helmet that has integrated lighting. A lot of times it’s not bright enough. You want it to have at least 20 lumens, but I’d go up to 50 or 60 if I could,” said Liu.

In other sports, Wilson sells a line of Illuminator balls for soccer, basketball and volleyball players who compete under the stars. And Penny Australia offers a glow-in-the-dark skateboard called the Nickel 27” Hoverboard for night riders.

Get out of town

Globe-trotting bike enthusiasts may want to consider a trip to Poland, where the northern town of Lidzbark Warminski boasts a new glow-in-the-dark bike path.

By day, the technology “uses synthetic particles called ‘luminophores’ to ‘charge’ the asphalt with sunlight,” The Telegraph newspaper in the U.K. reported in October. At night it lights up “in a mesmerizing blue color.”

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Glow-in-the-dark bike path in Lidzbark Warminski, Poland.

STRABAG

Or you can always escape short winter days by visiting one of the sunniest spots on the planet — Yuma, Arizona — which receives more than 4,000 sunlight hours per year and averages 11 sunny hours a day. 

But if you’re stuck in darker environs for the holiday season, Dengate offers one last piece of advice: If you work out near or on commuter roads, be especially careful about making sure you are visible this time of year.

“People are rushing home and tired after a long day. Really be on alert. At the holidays, try to schedule your runs very smartly,” he said.

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    Mary Brophy Marcus covers health and wellness for CBSNews.com