So you want to be healthy in 2014? Lose a little weight? Feel less stressed and more energised? ‘Ah,’ many of us think to ourselves, ‘well in that case, I simply must join a gym. Within days I’ll have a six pack and biceps to die for’.
Don’t do it, you have a choice. The January gym fad is unlikely to last. We do it because we are so desperate to take some action that indicates our intention to be different this year.
However, the reality is that you will probably go once or twice. The rest of the New Year’s resolution crowd will be there, incompetently clanking the weights or standing idly queuing for the Powerplate. It will feel like hell on earth and it will be easy for you to find excuses to avoid going in future. The direct debit will continue to leave your account and the chains of a year’s contract will feel heavier than the dumbbells you tried to lift.
Actually, I enjoy exercising in a gym, but have seen for myself how, after that initial January rush, so many new members’ workout cards end up untouched at the back of the pile. If you still want to join in March, then go for it. You’ll probably get a better deal too.
Instead, try stepping outside. Yes, it’s freezing, but that burns calories. Yes, it’s dark, but wear a head torch and go with a friend. The benefits of exercising outside are massive and Mother Nature makes no charge.
A report by the University of Essex explains that exercising outside may feel easier than doing so in the gym. When allowed to self-select walking speed, participants tended to walk faster outdoors than indoors. Paradoxically, they reported a lower rating of perceived exertion. You are likely to end up fitter without so much mental effort!
Green exercise is also strongly linked with improving self-esteem and reducing negative feelings such as tension, anger or depression. This is vital for children and teenagers too, so lead by example.
Chilly, gloomy January is undeniably the hardest time in the year to get out there, so do it now and, in just a matter of weeks, the gradual awakening of spring will keep you hooked. You will hear birdsong and see nature busy around you, not caring that your lycra is somewhat past its best. Snowdrops, courting birds and mad hares are all waiting to distract you from the fact that you are exerting yourself.
It’s so simple too – all you need is a pair of trainers or walking boots (and of course the all clear from your doctor if you’re not used to exercising) and a park, pavement, footpath or country lane.
I mentioned that there is no charge, but I forgot to tell you about the contract imposed by the great outdoors. It will make the gym’s commitment of 12 months seem paltry. This is a lifetime arrangement, because once you build a little time into your routine for green exercise and start feeling the benefits, you will be addicted for life.
First published in the EDP and EADT