It’s an all too familiar feeling. What seemed like a good idea to have that third mince pie or extra serving of pudding a few weeks back has left you feeling sluggish and feeling the pinch around the waistband. With the average person gaining 5lbs over the party season the National Trust is giving you the chance to shed some of your weight gain with a new month long, outdoor challenge.
The challenge builds on recent research by the University of Essex which shows that exercising in a natural environment boosts people’s physical and mental health more than going to indoor gyms, even in winter. This suggests that the Outdoor Gym Challenge, which can be done anywhere – not just in the breathtaking outdoors places looked after by the Trust – could prove to be far more beneficial and less costly than signing up for New Year gym membership, 60 per cent of which are given up in the first six months.
Exercises in the challenge include power walking, tree press ups and ‘spotty dogs’ (on the spot step backs using opposite arm and leg).
In Northern Ireland the National Trust has an abundance of properties with perfect outdoor gyms. At Castle Ward in County Down explore the stunning 820 acre walled demesne with walking, running and cycling trails. There’s a popular 3.2 mile running route and a 2.4 mile woodland route which is a good all over body workout as the terrain works every muscle and there’s plenty of scenery to keep the mind alert.
Rowallane Garden and Minnowburn both offer long walking trails and ample safe space to run and exercise in the outdoors. Whilst on the outskirts of Belfast, Divis and the Black Mountain is a walkers paradise where you can combine a walk with a spot of geocaching- an outdoor activity in which you have to seek and find caches using GPS technology. There are four caches hidden in this dramatic, windswept landscape which take in the summit of Black Mountain as well as the National Trust visitor centre and a circular way-marked walk around the mountain.
Or why not head to Portstewart Strand where many walkers and families enjoy the two miles of magnificent golden sands. A super way marked trail at the top of the sand ladder meanders through 6,000 year old dunes to the river edge at the Bann Estuary. The serenity of the estuary provides habitats for shelducks and other waders – a wonderful contrast to the wind and waves of the open beach.
Further along in County Fermanagh, Castle Coole and Florence Court both offer perfect outdoor gym spaces for walkers, joggers and keen runners. Cyclists can also gather some speed at Florence court along the cycle trails on site.
Other key sites include;
- Mount Stewart Co Down, where abundant walks await
- On the North Coast, Downhill Demesne and Carrick-a-Rede to the Giant’s Causeway – coastal walks
- Springhill – the perfect outdoor gym offering forest and acres of open space for all sorts of exercise
- The Argory – with riverside and wider estate walks as well as cycle paths and trails to explore while burning off the calories
Jo Burgon, Outdoors Programme Director at the National Trust, said: “Enabling everyone to enjoy the outdoors is one of the core reasons why the Trust exists. One of our founders, Octavia Hill wanted to bring peace and beauty into the lives of ordinary people, and she campaigned to save open spaces from development and to protect access across the UK. Everyone across the region can enjoy an outdoor gym where a National Trust open space is nearby. We have miles of coastline and countryside with many paths for walkers and those who enjoy the great outdoors.
Dr Jo Barton, a green exercise specialist with the University of Essex, said: “The effects of exercising outdoors in natural surroundings can be life changing. This is because of the effect it has on your mood and levels of self-esteem.
“Mood is an integral component of daily life and strongly influences our feelings of happiness and how we cope with stressful situations. Exercising in nature lifts your mood and boosts your self-esteem. It also has immunising properties which helps you deal with future challenges more effectively.
“Research implies this is true regardless of the weather conditions, where you are, and how long you exercise outside. Even a five minute walk outside to escape your work can reenergise you and restore your mental fatigue. This is even more important in winter months when daylight hours are reduced. A short walk on a crisp winter morning can really lift your spirits and set you up for the day.”
The exercise challenge, devised by Somerset outdoor training company Eco Fitness which already runs exercise programmes at the National Trust’s Stourhead in Wiltshire, has been designed to ease people into an outdoors regime where exercise is more like fun then a chore.
Jennie Antell from Eco Fitness said: “We hope people will be inspired to just get outdoors and give our plan a go. Weekend activities are fun and sociable and focused around exercising with friends and family, and in the week we want to encourage people to make effective use of their lunch hour and grab some time outside.
“No props or equipment are needed. It really is easy to join in. It’s just a case of wearing the right clothing and getting outside to enjoy the fresh air, whatever the weather.”
The Trust’s outdoor gym challenge marks the start of its five year focus on the Outdoors. To follow the day-by-day plan, visit http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/outdoorgym