If you’re anything like me, you dreaded PE lessons at school. I was no good at football, rugby, boxing, any throwing and catching sports. I couldn’t run particularly fast and I frequently attracted the ire of those people who treated a football game in PE as if it was an FA Cup final. That’s not to say I don’t like exercise or being outside – when I left school and realised not everything is a competition (and had a lot of time to sit around twiddling my thumbs) there were a lot of forms of exercise I found that were a) great ways of staying healthy, b) I enjoyed doing and c) weren’t turned into a needless competition every time we did them. If that’s your bag, then go for it and be passionate about your sport, but for the less sporty of us out there here are a few more laid back options.
- (Wild) Swimming
Okay, maybe if you prefer a warmer clime, you’re better off sticking to the pool. There’s no shame in that, especially if you can find a nice quiet pool to get some lengths in without fear of engaging yourself in one of those weird races in the professional lane off to the side. Plus, it means you don’t have to carry a wetsuit with you everywhere you go if you’re a bit too warm blooded for UK waters.
When warmer days do roll around, wild swimming can be a great (and free) form of escapism as well as exercise. Take care to only swim in bodies of water you know are safe, as reservoirs contain machinery under the water and can be unexpectedly deep and cold. Some aqua shoes are also a good idea to negotiate the rough rocks that lie near the edges of lakes like England’s Windermere and Coniston. If you live near the coast and it’s a clear, calm day, consider going for a morning swim to switch your body on. Tide times will be available online so you can choose when the sea will be calmest and easiest to reach.
Wild swimming will usually see you alone with nature for a while, with all your key muscle groups engaged and the cool water focusing your mind a little better than the often loud and tepid conditions in the local leisure centre. As ever, make sure you are a confident swimmer before tackling big bodies of water and take a friend who can help if you get into trouble. Also avoid swimming in places where there are strong currents and drops or places and consider how easy it will be for the emergency services to reach you if you do run into trouble.
Another water-based sport, but surely, a little more fun than the rowing machine in the gym. Your local watersports centre (they often operate in dock basins as well as by beaches) will rent you a kayak and life jacket for a reasonable price if you don’t own one – then you’re ready to hit the ocean (or river, or lake, etc etc etc.)
As with wild swimming, choose your location wisely. Check it’s legal to row where you want to and, if you’re thinking of going white water rafting, find a club who will give you the necessary safety training and keep you safe when you’re on the rapids. For a gentler, solo row it can be great to find a calm body of water and explore the nature and wildlife around you.
You’ll find that rowing out into the centre of a lake or just across to the next bay if you live by the coast is really engaging and relaxing as you can take it as fast or as slow as you would like to.
Okay, maybe it sounds a little boring. I certainly wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of walking when I was younger. But it’s often easy to fail to realise how good walking is for you – taking in the outdoors, especially with a friend or a pet, burns a lot of calories and is (according to multiple studies) a real benefit to your mental health. Plus, it’s permitted under coronavirus legislation, so why not make the most of it and go for a really long walk as we welcome in the spring?
It’s also an intriguing way of becoming a tourist in your own area. It might not sound appealing to city dwellers, but why not walk from your house into the city centre and appreciate the local landmarks and cultural institutions there whilst there’s nobody on the streets? When things open back up, it’s a great way to earn a pub lunch or quick snack if you’ve walked for miles.
And if you live in the country, get down to the less-travelled forest trails (old railway paths are great) that don’t have giant car parks at the end and enjoy some peace and quiet. Alternatively, make a mission of it and take a packed lunch up the nearest hill – it may seem arduous but is worth it for the fantastic views on a clear day and sense of achievement when you reach the peak. Plus, if you have a pet, they’ll owe you a world of thanks for all the walkies.
4. Mountain Biking
Really, I could have picked any cycling for this slot, as road cycling is open to anyone who had access to a road and BMX tracks/parks will usually let anyone have a go for free. But the latter options tend to be a bit busier or need specialist equipment to really get the most out of them, so I’ve gone with mountain biking as the most accessible option.
As long as you’re conscientious about walkers, dogs or horses on your chosen path, you can pretty much take a mountain bike anywhere. There are a lot of specialist trails maintained by the National Trust which grade their routes in order of difficulty which should help you to choose a path that is perfect for your skill level; alternatively, you can take a more leisurely ride around council-maintained cycle paths in towns (usually denoted by a white number in a red box and a little image of a bike.)
This is a great one you can do alone or with friends, and often means you can leave the car at home and make the bike your transport to and from your ride destination. Offset your carbon footprint and get some exercise in? What’s not to like.
5. Rock Climbing
Despite what you might think, you don’ have to join any kind of club to become an amateur rock climber. You can rent all the necessary gear from your local climbing centre or pick it up second hand, just make sure the metal and straps on the harnesses are in good working order. Many leisure centres have big rock climbing walls which are a great way of building strength. Just find a partner to belay you and you’ll be on your way.
This is another one that you can build up to bigger and bigger heights at your own pace and get a real sense of achievement every time you break through a particular height barrier. If height isn’t your thing, you can also try traversing walls which aren’t necessarily high but have a variety of different angled walls you can use to build strength and technique – no need to worry about harnesses either, just get some chalk to help your hands grip and learn some good falling techniques as the traversing wall is above a large, soft mat to cushion your impact.
Of course, there are competitions but you don’t necessarily have to enter them. Just get to grips with climbing and see that it’s for you!