How to put the fun back into fitness
Keep those good habits from getting boring – and explore the outdoors at the same time
The hills are alive: the Wayfarers hiking club on a walk on Lugnaquila, Co Wicklow
Getting out into the fresh air to exercise is good for everything from your mood to your bones to your immunity – depending on what you do. This is the easiest way to up your fitness game without really thinking about it.
It’s also bang on trend. Better yet, a number of studies published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology indicate that simply getting out into nature can boost your vitality even if you don’t do any strenuous exercise or have enough sunshine to top up your vitamin D levels. Just hanging around can make you feel better.
So what can you do to make your dreams of bucolic bliss a reality? Here are six suggestions for making exercise fun again by braving the outdoors.
If walking is easy, try hillwalking
Hillwalking is not just about taking a gentle amble around rolling hills. It’s a step below climbing, really. If you are comfortable doing 10km (six miles) at a good pace now, challenge yourself to go a bit further with the help of a group such as the Dublin-based Wayfarers hiking club.
On a six-hour Sunday walk, for example, beginners can cover 14-16km in the Wicklow mountains. Those who are more practised (okay, fitter) cover up to 24km.
“The difference is pace,” says club chairman PJ Howell. “The fitter you are, the faster you can comfortably go. Try it. You will discover muscles where you never knew you had muscles.” It’s a good way to build up the muscles in your legs that help to control your balance, he adds. “Once they start, people become hooked.”
This is not one for children; members are usually 30-50 years old. Trying out a couple of walks is free. It then costs €45 to join. Wayfarers is currently looking for members to go on their more challenging walks.
There are a number of other large and small walking clubs dotted around the country too. And hillwalking can take you farther afield. Howell spent his last holiday snowshoeing in Albania – walking through the snow with tennis racquet-like shoes.
If yoga or Pilates is easy, try sailing
Bobbing around on a yacht on the water can give your deep muscles the kind of workout they have never had before, says Rónán Ó Siochrú of Irish Offshore Sailing in Dún Laoghaire.
“Two to three hours on a boat can give you a nice workout,” he says. “Beginners feel it in the backs of the legs especially.” Sailing can benefit your balance, muscular strength and give the kind of glow only a few hours at sea can impart.
There are a number of courses for beginners. With Irish Offshore Sailing, a weekend course for beginners costs about €320 including lunch. After 16 training days over a year, you can be licensed to hire a yacht on holidays in places such as Greece or Croatia, according to Ó Siochrú.
If cycling or spinning is easy, try mountain biking
The idea of going off road can be daunting for beginners, says Graham Kenny of Bike World Ireland near Roscrea in Co Tipperary. That’s why he supplies everything from mountain bikes, helmets and kneepads to those who want to career down the slopes. There is also an old military truck to haul you up to the top of the hills at his family farm, where you will find tracks going back down marked for gradient and difficulty. It’s a great activity to do with kids too. It’s all done on the farm so there is none of the danger of being near a road.
“We take the struggle out of it and leave you with the fun and the adrenaline rush,” he says. It’s not unusual for adults to get hooked. “Usually people who come back two to three times, then invest in a bike of their own.”
If circuits are easy, try warrior training
In Cork city, Naval Service physical therapy instructor Derek Nagle runs classes in Fitzgerald’s Park that are open to everyone. In addition to kettle bells and suspension ropes, he uses whatever he finds in the park such as benches for push-ups. In the gym it’s easy to get comfortable doing the same routine, but Nagle makes sure that does not happen in the park.
“When it was snowing, we made snowballs and chased each other about. It’s not about equipment, it’s about using what you have,” he says. “Anyone can join and everyone works out at their own level doing different things.”
When one woman turned up with her daughter in a buggy, Nagle used that with the class. “I added extra weight to it, then got her to push it around. Then she passed it on to others to give her a break.”
Classes with Cork Outdoor Fitness last about 40 minutes and cost €7. Check local noticeboards for flyers about summer classes in parks near you.
If running is easy, try bootcamp
Urban Fit Crew runs summer classes in south Dublin involving short, sharp bursts of activity in the verdant surrounds of Bushy Park. “Our class is popular with women who’ve had a tough day in the office. They say it energises them,” says trainer Richie Doran. “It clears the head and releases endorphins.” Doran also runs a free running group in the park.
Bootcamp is a good counterbalance to running, cycling and other endurance sports, he says, as it is an all-body workout involving bodyweight training as well as aerobic exercise. Bootcamp costs €89 for six weeks with three classes per week.
If a rowing machine is easy, try kayaking
Working out on a fixed rowing machine is strenuous, so if you have mastered the machine and are bored with it, consider taking to the water. Kayaking schools, such as Shearwater Sea Kayaking in Howth, Co Dublin, offer good taster sessions the weekend. It costs €120 for a full day that starts with instruction on land before you take to the harbour. All necessary equipment and a good lunch is provided.
“It can be taxing on the arms and upper body,” says beginning Shane Gowan. “But you’re out among the elements and there’s a social side to it that you won’t get at the gym.”
Rose Costello is a journalist, fitness instructor and health coach who works one-to-one and in groups with people looking to get healthy. See zest4life.com