The great outdoors, as many of you know, has played a huge role in my health and wellbeing, particularly over the last few years. Getting outdoors never fails to make me feel better. Just spending a few moments listening to birdsong and watching the world go by in peaceful, concrete-free surroundings has brought me far more health benefits than any pill I could get on prescription – and believe me, I’ve had a few! As for reaching a summit? Well there are few things, if any, that top that that feeling of exhilaration when you momentarily find yourself on top of that little bit of the world.
Once again, we have found ourselves unable to travel to so many places that we love. Personally, I am incredibly grateful to have found myself a great endurance coach, who has been keeping me going over the last year and working with me when plans have had to change, sometimes at annoyingly short notice. His training plans have kept me motivated when, believe me, it would’ve been easier not to bother and I have been out training almost every day, whatever the weather.
However, pounding the tarmac is definitely not in the same league as hitting the hills. Recently, we managed to get out for a couple of hilly hikes within our county, but what a shock to the system it was! As I hit the first ascent, I really noticed how much ‘hill fitness’ I had lost. I wasn’t out of breath, in fact I think my cardiovascular system is in the best shape it’s ever been in, but boy did my legs feel weak!
There was a moment I could have cried, as it has taken so long for me to get my fitness levels back since my surgery, but then I realised it was a good thing. You see, I had got comfortable with running and whilst there are good and bad training days, I felt I was doing well; this day out had highlighted my weaknesses and now they are identified, I fully intend to address them in whatever way I can.
So now we find ourselves with less access to hills and mountains, what can we do to make sure we are in the best shape possible when restrictions are lifted?
Cardiovascular activity, or aerobic exercise, is any activity that gets your heart pumping and those large muscle groups working. This might include brisk walking, running, cycling, even skipping.
These forms of exercise strengthen your heart, helping it to work more efficiently and has been shown to lower blood pressure, regulate insulin levels and lower blood sugar levels.
Weight bearing exercise such as walking and running can also help maintain bone strength. What’s not to like?
Exercise is not only beneficial for us physically, but it is also good for our minds. Research has shown so many positive effects and I’m sure many of us have experienced them first hand. As Cicero famously said, “It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigour.”
Just a 10-minute brisk walk has the power to improve our mood and increase mental alertness. Exercise has been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of depression and anxiety.
I’ve given a few examples of cardio exercise. There is little to no cost involved (until you start entering events and buying the latest trail shoes!) and it’s something we all have access too, despite gyms being closed.
Focussing on building strength can pay dividends… Apart from the obvious, it helps to improve balance and stability, reduces risk of injury and keeps us prepared for those long adventures, where we might find ourselves carrying a rather well packed rucksack.
You don’t need access to a gym to do weight-bearing exercise. If you don’t have weights to hand, you can use household objects, for example tins of beans, or a couple of filled bottles are ideal. You can even use your own bodyweight… planks, push ups and pull ups are perfect for building upper body strength.
Practice hill repeats on your stairs – with a loaded backpack! Get creative!!
Increased flexibility can improve aerobic fitness training, muscular strength and endurance, and sport-specific training. Increased range of motion (ROM) is a key component in preventing injuries through unimpeded, fluid movement. Flexibility enhances movement and mobility for the athlete.
We can achieve this by stretching daily. Yoga is particularly good for helping to improve flexibility, and if we’re just starting out, don’t worry! You can do it sitting down.
There are some great video workouts available for free on YouTube. I love Yoga with Adrienne. Start easy, and work your way up.
Our minds and mindset
With schools being closed, people working from home, or not working at all, families and friends being separated, it’s all too easy to let negative thoughts and feelings creep in.
Whilst we can’t do the things we had hoped to and with various events being cancelled/postponed/deferred and not for the first time, it is so easy to become disheartened. But one thing is for sure, the day will come when those opportunities are made available to us once again. So, with that in mind, it’s important that our focus shifts not to what we can’t do, but to making sure that we are in the best physical and mental shape possible for when we can.
I have learnt from personal experience that distraction can be a great tool for those tough times. During those times when I couldn’t walk, I would read. When I couldn’t see well enough to read anymore, I subscribed to audiobooks. I immersed myself in positive books, books about the outdoors and adventurers, books about fitness and endurance, stories of survival. In my head, I was no longer stuck at home, but unknowingly visualising everything I would do when I was healthy again.
We give so much thought to the foods we eat, being careful to only have those naughty treats in moderation, but how much thought do we given to what we feed our minds? One of the biggest things to have helped me in recent months is spending less time obsessing over the news. In fact, nowadays I spend little to no time thinking about that, as we have made the decision to stop watching TV, and in a similar way to the reading scenario I mentioned earlier, choosing to watch positive programs, films or documentaries, those things that won’t have such a draining effect on us instead.
Storms don’t last forever and neither will lockdown. Use your time wisely and get yourself in the best shape possible for the epic adventures that lie ahead!