July sees the onset of Park and Recreation Month in the United States and this got me thinking that we should also celebrate the wonderful British outdoors. Lockdown saw many of us turn to the outside for exercise but I wonder how many will continue to prioritise the outdoors as life begins to return to normal and work and everyday life take over again. I hope that the severe restrictions we have endured may have led us to reassess our lives driving a legacy of appreciation for our wonderful green spaces.
The benefits of being outdoors
It is worth remembering the many health benefits of getting out in the fresh air. A 2018 study from the University of East Anglia confirmed what I truly believe; spending time outside in green space has “significant and wide-ranging health benefits”. The study, which gathered evidence from over 140 studies involving over 290 million people, reported that being in nature reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, high blood pressure and stress. Being outside in the sunshine is also essential for creating vitamin D (crucial for healthy bones, teeth and muscles as it enables us to absorb calcium and phosphate from our diet). The NHS offered free vitamin D supplements to people at high risk of COVID over the winter as it was feared they may not have got enough vitamin D from the sunlight due to being advised to shield indoors.
Outside space and fresh air enormously benefit our mental wellbeing. The mental health charity Mind advocates spending time in green space as it can improve mood, reduce feelings of stress or anger, induce relaxation and improve confidence and self-esteem. If we are active whilst we are outside it can help us to improve our fitness and lose weight. In addition, we can make new connections through the outdoors (perhaps by meeting people whilst walking the dog or joining a walking or running group). According to the Mayo Clinic social connectivity not only stops us from feeling lonely but also sharpens our memory and cognitives skills and increases our sense of happiness and well-being. Speaking personally, I find very little to beat getting outside for a run with a partner. It enables me to appreciate the beauty around me, enjoy the company of my partner, experience great personal satisfaction and luxuriate in the feeling of deep relaxation that comes after a good run.
Recommended activity guidelines
I think it is worth reminding ourselves of the NHS physical activity guidelines for adults aged 19-64:
Aim to be physically active every day. Any activity is better than none and more is better.
Do strengthening activities that work all the major muscles on at least 2 days a week.
Do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week.
Reduce time spent sitting or lying down and break up long periods of not moving with some activity.
Outdoor exercise can form an important element of our activity requirement. There is something for all of us out there, perhaps running, walking, cycling, swimming, climbing, canoeing or gardening – the list is endless. The summer is here so I hope that you can all get outdoors more and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air. The lifting of COVID restrictions is empowering all of us to take advantage of the outdoors so let’s make sure we do this; I believe your fitness and mental health will benefit.
If you need any help or advice about taking up a new activity then please feel free to contact us here at F2. Remember your strength and conditioning is important too and could help you to enjoy the great outdoors even more. We are keen to set up a beginners running group should the demand be available so please let us know if you are interested. My aim would be to make the sessions sociable and fun as well as rewarding in terms of health benefits.