Ten of the best...ways to boost your fitness outside

From Nordic walking to tai chi, George Blacksell rounds up ten great ways to take your workout into the great outdoors

With summer in full swing, spending time excercising indoors isn't looking like a particularly exciting option for most of us. If the thought of trip to the gym sends a shiver down your spine, you're definitely not alone. Luckily the gym is by no means the only place to get in shape. In fact, exercising in outside can be an all round more enjoyable and rewarding experience, and it's better for the environment to boot. Exposure to natural light is much healthier than fluorescent, artificial lighting, while regular exposure to the sun boosts Vitamin D levels - a vitamin essential for a healthy immune system. What's more, according to the Mental Health Foundation, outdoor exercise provides a sense of accomplishment that participants might not get in the gym. A report by the Countryside Recreation Network also found that self-esteem was boosted and weight lost in nine out of 10 people who switched from indoor exercising to out. Inspired? Here are ten workouts that let you get fit and enjoy the late summer sunshine at the same time.

Nordic walking
Having evolved from its origins as an off-season training programme for skiers, Nordic walking is basically walking aided by the use of poles in either hand. By placing pressure on the poles, they can be used to propel you along and reduce the pressure that normal walking places on your knee, hip, and foot joints. When compared to walking without poles, Nordic walking can result in up to a 46 per cent increase in calories burnt, which helps you to get fitter, faster. This is partly down to the fact that the use of the poles means that the upper body muscles are used as well as the legs. Gill Stewart of Nordic Walking UK recommends that you start with lessons with a qualified instructor in order to get the basic technique right.

Pros: Burns more calories than normal walking, suitable for everyone

Cons: You will need a pair of Nordic walking poles

Good for: Quadriceps, hamstrings, calf muscles, gluteus maximus, upper and lower abdominals

For more information, go to: www.nordicwalking.co.uk

Whether you're mountain biking up a hill or sticking to the tarmac, cycling is a good way to get out and explore your surrounding area. Sustrans is the charity behind the National Cycle Network and their online site maps the UK's 12,600 miles of walking and cycling routes. Cycling is one of the easiest ways of incorporating exercise into your daily routine as it provides a means of transport as well as acting as a work out. It is the third most popular recreational activity in the UK with an estimated 3.1 million people taking to two wheels every month. As a low-impact form of exercise, it is easier on joints than running.

Pros: If you will use it to commute, the Government’s Cycle scheme allows you to buy your bike tax free, which saves you around 40 percent of the cost

Cons: Requires at least a basic knowledge of bike repair and maintenance

Good for: Most of the muscles in the legs as well as strengthening the tendons without the load-bearing stress of running. Biking on undulating terrain and in tough conditions will burn 15 calories a minute

For more information, go to: www.britishcycling.org.uk

Green Gyms
The perfect antidote to the sterile gym environment, the BTCV Green Gym scheme is an opportunity to get involved in physically demanding volunteer jobs that benefit local green spaces. The work varies from lighter options to more heavy duty jobs such as pruning and cutting down small trees. In the 10 years since conservation charity BTCV set up its first pilot Green Gym, more than 10,000 volunteers have improved more than 2,500 green spaces. There is a real sense of achievement to be gained from taking part in the volunteer work outdoors. Studies carried out by the University of Essex show that engaging in physical work in pleasant green rural or urban landscapes enhances mood, improves self-esteem and reduces blood pressure.

Pros: Enhances your fitness and health, while also giving you the chance to improve your local outdoor environment. There is also a huge variety programmes available nationwide.

Cons: Not available in all areas of the UK

Good for: The type of workout you get depends on the volunteering job you take part in

For more information, go to: www2.btcv.org.uk

Running outside requires greater energy expenditure and is therefore a more efficient form of exercise than excercising indoors. A number of factors such as the wind resistance as well as more extreme outside air temperatures and uneven surfaces all contribute to this. When it’s cold outside your usual calorie burn during exercise can increase by up to 12 per cent as the body tries to maintain core temperature. Running is one of the best aerobic exercises for maintaining a healthy heart and lungs. As a weight bearing exercise, running can also increase bone density, which can prevent osteoporosis.

Pros: It helps ensure the efficient flow of blood and oxygen throughout the body

Cons: It is a load bearing exercise and can therefore be tough on the joints

Good for:
Femoral quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, iliopsoas and calf muscles

For more information, go to: http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/

A rope-free spin on rock climbing, bouldering is an adrenaline sport for anyone who enjoys getting out and about in rocky terrain. As there's no rope to secure you, the climbing takes place relatively close to ground level at around three to five metres. For safety reasons those taking part have to use a bouldering mat or crash pad in order to break their fall if they slip. 'Bouldr' is an online resource that acts as a guidebook to ‘problems’ (a term that denotes boulder routes) the world over. The sport’s recent surge in popularity has led to it being catered for by indoor climbing gyms as well. Bouldering is great for strengthening your core because you have to maintain a lot of body tension while climbing.

Pros: Requires very little equipment compared to rock climbing

Cons: It can be dangerous and you need to have full knowledge of the risks

Good for:
Forearms, fingers, biceps, back muscles, abdominals, chest, and legs

For more information, go to: blog.bouldr.net

Tai Chi
The ancient Chinese martial art of Tai Chi, which literally means ‘supreme iron fist’, has evolved from being a self defence technique into an activity pursued for its benefits to physical and mental health. According to a study by the Archives of Internal Medicine Tai Chi 'appears to have physiological and psychosocial benefits and also appears to be safe and effective in promoting balance control, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness in older patients with chronic conditions.' Tai Chi's movements, which are low-impact and weight-bearing, are designed to improve balance, flexibility, strength and coordination. The emphasis on the correct body posture and sinal alignment realses the pressure and tension caused by slumping.
Pros: It can be done practically anywhere

Cons: The 100 plus combinations of movements taught by some schools can be a little complex to learn, it will therefore require you to take lessons in the early stages 

Good for: Concentration, balance and flexibility. All of the major muscle groups and joints are needed for the slow, gentle movements in Tai Chi

For more information, go to: www.taichiunion.com

Outdoor circuit training

Circuit training is a combination of exercises completed in quick succession. An exercise is done for a fixed period of time (e.g. 60 seconds), after which, you move on (hence the 'circuit') to the next exercise. Circuit training is a complete way to excercise, combining cardio, toning and resistance training. The circuit exercises are usually sequenced in a way to alternate between muscle groups, which mean each group gets a chance to recover. Most parks will have the basic equipment you need to get started - a bench and some open space. 

Develops strength and endurance, there are a wide range of exercises to suit almost anyone

Cons: Some exercises require specialist equipment

Good for:
The upper and lower body exercises test every muscle, but especially the hamstrings, quadriceps and calf muscles

For more information, go to: circuittrain.com

Ultimate Frisbee

A team sport involving of seven players per side, Ultimate Frisbee is fast moving and is played, uniquely, without referees. The player’s speed, agility and endurance are all tested and the objective is to score points by passing the disc into the other team’s 'end zone' or goal. Games are played to 15 points and will usually keep players moving for at least an hour and a half. It has been described as an amalgamation of several different sports combing the continuous play of football, with the direction changes of basketball, and the aerial passes of American football. Ultimate Frisbee is a wonderful way to maintain your fitness. To maximise the benefits, start slowly with one game a week and work on strengthening your body and improving your skills.

Pros: A group activity, the team camaraderie can be a great confidence booster

Cons: On the flip side, due to it being a team sport, you have to work out when everyone else is free

Good for:
Shoulders, quads, hamstrings

For more information, go to: www.ukultimate.com

Wild swimming
Wild swimming has really taken off in recent years, with a whole host of resources on offer for those who want to take the plunge. The Environment Agency’s water quality map provides information on how safe watercourses are, grading each area on its chemistry, biology and nitrate and phosphate content. Google Maps has a facility whereby information on wild swimming spots can be tagged on the map and shared with other users. The Outdoor Swimming Society also has a programme of introductory swims in outdoor swimming spots across the UK for those who need a little coaxing into the water or simply want a bit of company. Swimming tones the whole body as well as strengthening your heart and lungs.

Pros: An exhilarating way achieving all the health benefits of swimming

Cons: Your nearest lake might be polluted     

Good for: The whole body. It improves your strength, flexibility and balance

For more information, go to: www.wildswimming.co.uk

Often confused with canoeing, which also involves paddling a boat across the water, kayaking is differentiated by the fact that the user sits with their legs forward and propels themselves along with a double bladed paddle. The sport has universal appeal and is a low impact sport, so suitable for people with limited fitness. The pursuit is usually done on flat water, but you can also kayak out in the open water or down rapids.  The new Lee Valley Park white water centre opened in this April and is now taking bookings for test runs of the 2012 Olympic white water course.

Pros: Kayaking can improve you muscle tone and cardiovascular fitness and many areas have outdoor sports centres that offer kayak rentals

Cons: You will need tuition to begin with

Good for: The upper body muscle groups (upper back, biceps, triceps, shoulders and forearms) but it can also provide a full body workout. When done correctly the strength to power the kayak comes from rotating the torso and applying pressure with your legs. The abdominals are constantly worked, which means it is good for the core 

For more information, go to: www.leevalleypark.org.uk


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