Ever feel like you spend most of the year cooped up indoors? Now’s the time to make the most of the longer, brighter days and warmer temperatures by getting outside and active whenever you can.
The health and wellbeing benefits of outdoor exercise, particularly close to nature, are well documented. Experts have coined terms such as ‘ecotherapy’ and ‘forest bathing’ to describe its antidepressant, heart-rate lowering and stress-relieving effects. And a large-scale 2013 review, published in the journal Extreme Physiology & Medicine, concluded that outdoor, natural environments help increase physical activity levels with lower levels of perceived exertion. In other words, we do more but suffer less, thanks to physiological benefits such as stress reduction, restored mental fatigue, improved mood and self-esteem and perceived health.
So why not press pause on the gym and try something different this summer? ‘Take the pressure off yourself to get to that Spin class or pre-work HIIT session – sometimes a hike through the woods or a dip in the sea is what you really need,’ says Sophie Everard, fitness coach and Keen footwear ambassador.
Here are a few ideas to inspire you, whether you’re at home or holidaying…
1. Head to the park
Launched in 2014, Our Parks is an organisation that works with councils to offer free or low-cost outdoor group exercise classes in local parks and community spaces. Sign up for Bootcamp; Box Fit; or Abs, bums and thighs, for example. This year, it’s partnering with Merrell, the rugged outdoor footwear brand, to expand the classes around Greater London and into the surrounding counties, and get 100,000 ‘parkers’ exercising for free each week by 2018. Find your nearest class at ourparks.org.uk.
2. Go wild in the wet
Our favourite place to make a splash and act like big kids is the amazing outdoor New Forest Water Park that’s like Total Wipeout meets Ninja Warrior. It uses large floating sports apparatus called WiBit and users can burn up to 500 calories an hour larking around on them. There’s also 5-Pylon cable wakeboarding, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. If you aren’t local, make it a short break and camp there too; visit newforestwaterpark.co.uk.
3. Salute the sun
Take your yoga practice outdoors and salute the sun in person. It doesn’t have to be an outdoor class; just take your mat into the garden and work through some poses, listening to the birds and feeling the breeze on your skin. Increasing numbers of teachers and studios are offering outdoor options in summer time. Or Londoners could book a lesson with a local teacher via the Yogi2me app and ask them to meet you at a local beauty spot (from £65; yogi2me.com).
4. Meditate in the fresh air
Visit China and you’ll see adults and children alike practising Qi Gong – an ancient form of moving meditation – in the parks, gardens and open countryside. With its roots in traditional Chinese medicine, Qi Gong exercises are designed to stimulate and move the ‘Qi’ (Chi) energy in every organ and meridian in the body. ‘It’s a fantastic way to fully connect with and be at one with nature, so we often practise it outdoors,’ says Qi Gong and Taoist Master David James Lees. Find a local teacher at qigonginstitute.org/directory or, for David’s drop-in sessions in the beautiful Derbyshire Dales, visit wuweiwisdom.com/meditation-classes.
5. Make like a monkey
If you haven’t yet tried Go Ape, the treetop adventure course, do your fun side a favour and book in. ‘A typical session burns over 500 calories and you’ll keep your heart rate at 50 to 60 per cent of its max, so it’s a great fat burner,’ says personal trainer Ben Boulter. But it’s the mood-boosting endorphins we love the most – just try swinging through trees without a huge grin on your face. Find your nearest of 31 locations at goape.co.uk.
6. Enter an OCR
Summer is arguably the best time to take on an obstacle-course race or ‘OCR’, when you won’t get so chilly charging through rivers and plunging into mud baths. Get a team together and take on a 10- to 12-mile Tough Mudder or half (5 miles) – find an event at toughmudder.co.uk. For a more scenic, ‘wild run’ through forest, lakes and trails – with a few obstacles thrown in, too – get in training for the award-winning Wolf Run in Warwickshire this September. Visit thewolfrun.com/autumnwolf.
7. Try Coasteering
Coasteering is a seaside adventure sport that originated 100 years ago, when climbers began to traverse rocky sea cliffs. You wear a wetsuit, trainers, helmet and buoyancy jacket, and explore the coast at sea level. This might mean swimming in sea caves, climbing natural rock arches, wave dodging or flinging yourself off sheer rock faces. If you’re feeling brave, book a coasteering weekend in beautiful Pembrokeshire, where you’ll be guided through this exhilarating sport by top-class instructors and also have the chance to go on a coastal hike or try surfing or sea kayaking. Weekend breaks cost from £219 including all food, instruction and accommodation; visit preseliventure.co.uk.
8. Find beauty in running
Forget racing – next time you fancy a run, leave your watch at home and take in some culture, instead. There are lots of sculpture parks across the country, many of them free. Yorkshire Sculpture Park has pieces by Barbara Hepworth and Anthony Gormley. Kielder Water and Forest Park in Northumberland has a stunning forest and lake trail, studded with outdoor art. Other locations include Grizedale Forest Park in Cumbria, the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail in Gloucestershire, Crosby Beach in Merseyside, the New Art Centre in Wiltshire and Surrey’s Pride of the Valley Sculpture Park.
9. Go electric
Think an electric bike’s cheating? See it as a training aid, instead. Electric mountain biking is one of the fastest growing types of cycling, with women taking the hills by storm. By giving you more oompf, EMTBs make trails more accessible, enabling you to go further and faster. We like the Haibike sDuro HardLife 4.0, £2,000. Find your local dealer at haibike.com/en-US/INT/dealer – many offer outdoor events in summer where you can give the bikes a try, such as Bedgebury Forest (quenchuk.co.uk/bedgebury).
10. Jump on board
With British waters now warming up and so many surf schools now accessible to us, learning to surf has never been more readily available nor more popular,’ says Everard – who teaches the sport as part of her Mad To Live retreats (madtoliveblog.com). ‘It’s an incredible sport that involves endurance, power, strength, agility and balance, and what I love most about it is the multitude of physical and psychological benefits that being connected to the ocean brings.’ Find a coach or surf school at surfingengland.org/.
11. Take a TRX
Don’t have an Our Parks venue (see no1) near you? No problem – get a full-body DIY workout with a TRX Go, which is the lightest in its range of suspension trainers. It comes in a small carry pouch, with two suggested 20-minute workouts, and takes less than 60 seconds to set up. ‘Loop your TRX over a tree branch or a goal post and you’ve got an outdoor gym for a full-body workout right there,’ says TRX Senior Master Trainer Matt Gleed. ‘Suspension Training develops strength, balance, flexibility and core stability simultaneously, all by leveraging gravity and your own body weight. Use it for planks, lunges, biceps curls, triceps dips – or any of the 100-plus exercises detailed online.’ TRX Go, £109, trxtraining.co.uk.
12. Perfect your topspin forehand
Have a knock-up at your local ‘walk on and play’ free public court. You can even join in a free, weekly coach-led session – all thanks to Tennis For Free, a community-led sports charity that hopes to get more people active and interested in the sport. Find a court or class at tennisforfree.com.
13. Swim outdoors
You don’t have to brave the sea or lakes if it feels too daunting – there are plenty of outdoor pools and lidos around the UK where you can enjoy fresh air and (hopefully) sunshine as you swim. Find out more, and get inspiration for wild swimming in nature, at outdoorswimmingsociety.com. Got the bug? Get in training for Macmillan’s All Out Swim charity events – 2K or 5K cold-water swims taking place in outdoor pools this September and October. Visit macmillan.org.uk/alloutswim.
14. Get geocaching
This global game takes treasure hunts to the next level. Think Pokemon Go but for real, or orienteering with more rewards. Geocaches are hidden all over the world by fellow players, usually in a location of special interest or beauty. They normally take the form of a small waterproof box containing a few low-value knick-knacks, a logbook and pen. The geocacher then uses their GPS to record the coordinates of their cache and logs its existence online. All you need to play is a smart phone or GPS device. Download the Geocaching app (geocaching.com), then choose a cache (like the ‘treasure’) near you and navigate your way there. There are 2 million geocaches worldwide, all in different formats. Once you find it, you sign the logbook, and you can take something from the cache and leave something of equal or greater value in return. Then you log your find online and put the cache back for the next person to find. Visit gagb.org.uk.