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6 ways to get fit in the great outdoors

Outdoor exercise has physical benefits and can boost mental wellbeing too.

If a long and cold winter has left you feeling a bit unfit and lethargic, exercise in the fresh air is a great way to re-energise. Now that the weather is improving and days are getting longer, there are lots more options. So why not get out there and try a new activity or sport?

Outdoor exercise benefits

Exercising outside is good for both your physical and mental health. Here’s how it can help:

  • It prompts your body to release endorphins, or feel-good chemicals, that lift your mood. Exposure to daylight also helps this process.

  • Sunlight on our skin during the summer months is our biggest source of essential Vitamin D. Between 10 and 30 minutes several times a week with your forearms and lower legs uncovered is enough for most people, but you may need more if you are dark skinned. Just make sure you cover up or apply sunscreen well before you start to go red or burn.

  • A solo walk, run or cycle gives you time to yourself to think, while exercising with others helps build the social connections so important for mental wellbeing.

  • It gets you out into green spaces – studies have shown that being close to nature has mental health benefits.

What outdoor exercises could you try?

1. Step out

A brisk walk has lots of health benefits. It raises your heart rate so helps improve your cardiovascular, or aerobic, fitness. And it’s a weight-bearing exercise so promotes healthy bones without stressing your joints. It’s also something that you can easily work into your day by walking rather than driving, so it’s good for the planet too. Read more about the benefits of walking.

There are plenty of ways you can discover new walking routes in your area:

  • If you have health problems or are feeling quite unfit, you could start with Walking for Health, which runs a huge network or easy group walks across England.

  • Prefer some longer hikes in beautiful areas? Try the Ramblers, which runs group walks around Britain.

  • If you’re stepping out on your own, you could try the Go Jauntly You can download more than 1,000 free walking routes all over the UK or sign up to access even more.

2. Up the pace by running

Running or jogging is a great way to accelerate your fitness journey. It makes your heart and lungs work harder and burns around twice as many calories as walking. You don’t need a pricey pair of running shoes to get started. Just choose comfortable trainers that provide some cushioning.

Couch to 5k is a programme designed for beginners. You build up from a mix of running and walking to running 5km without stopping over the course of nine weeks, although you can take longer if you need to. The programme is available as a series of podcasts or as a smartphone app.

Joining a local running group can provide extra motivation and support. You can find one near you on the RunTogether website. Runs are suitable for all abilities and are led by a trained run leader, who makes sure no one gets left behind.

Longer events, such as 10k runs or half marathons for more experienced runners, are out there too, so search for events in your area if you need something a little more testing.

3. Get on your bike

Cycling benefits your cardiovascular system and is low impact. It also helps increase muscle tone and joint flexibility in your lower body.

If you’re a beginner, the Cycling UK website has lots of advice to help you gain confidence and stay safe on the roads, and there’s plenty of resources for more seasoned cyclists too. The site allows you to search for local groups - a great way to meet other cyclists and learn about routes in your area. Most run group rides for cyclists of all levels of experience.

If you want to explore on your own, or with family or friends, the Map my Ride mobile app allows you to search for new routes as well as track your cycling progress.

You don’t even need to own a bike to start with as there are increasing numbers of bike hire schemes all over the country. These allow you to give it a try before investing in your own bike.

4. Try walking sports

Team sports played at a walking pace are a growing trend. And they’re perfect if you’re looking for a gentle way to try a new sport or get back into one you enjoyed in the past.

There are plenty of local groups playing walking sports such as football, netball, basketball, hockey, rugby and cricket. You must keep one foot on the ground at all times and players who break the rules usually have to spend some time in a ‘sin bin’.

You can still work up a sweat with this moderate exercise and build your stamina gradually. But you don’t have the running, jumping and sudden twisting movements that can lead to injuries. It’s sociable, and the need to concentrate on the game and work together with your teammates gives your brain a workout too.

5. Challenge yourself at bootcamps

Military-style ‘bootcamp’ exercise classes, such as those run by BMF, are a popular way to get fit in local green spaces. They help you increase your strength, agility and stamina through a mix of weight training and aerobic exercise. Sessions are graded from beginner to advanced so they’re a good option if you really want to develop your fitness and push yourself. Don’t worry – you won’t get shouted at though!

6. Have a go at rowing

Rowing uses nearly all the muscles in your body is great cardiovascular exercise. What’s more, it’s low impact so is kind to your joints. Many people find being out on the water calming and you get a chance to see riverside nature from a different perspective too. If you live near the coast, you can experience the thrill of rowing through the waves in larger, more stable boats.

There are rowing clubs all over the country and many run British Rowing’s Learn to Row course aimed at complete beginners. Some have free taster sessions, and children can participate from the age of 11. If you get hooked, you could join a club as a recreational rower or even take part in regattas or rowing ‘marathons’ if you’re more competitive.

For more exercise ideas, have a look at our article on easy ways to achieve all-round fitness for beginners.


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