10 ways to get active in Hertfordshire this summer
PUBLISHED: 12:37 29 August 2017 | UPDATED: 10:55 08 September 2017
Just five minutes exercise in the open air can have a tangible impact on our mental and physical health. Keri Jordan explores the opportunities and benefits of enjoying 'green exercise' in the county this summer and beyond
‘Bright and breezy with sunny disposition seeks companion for fun, socialising, health and happiness.’ If Mother Nature placed a classified ad for outdoor exercise she would have no trouble attracting a host of work-outers.
Green exercise encompasses any physical activity that can be enjoyed outdoors in the natural environment. Studies have shown that walking, running, cycling, gardening or any other active outdoor pursuit can have a significant impact on one’s physical and emotional wellbeing.
Researchers at the University of Essex studied over 1,200 people and identified a significant increase in self-esteem and mood after exercising outdoors. As well as improving one’s overall sense of wellness, it was found that green exercise can help guard against potential health threats and even increase life expectancy. Perhaps more surprisingly, the biggest morale-boosting impact was recorded in the first five minutes of exercise.
Our ancient (and not so ancient) ancestors were linked much more closely to nature than us cooped-up moderns, and the argument goes that our brains have a hardwired connection with the outdoors. It’s been scientifically shown that by simply looking at lush, open green spaces we can decrease the stress-related hormones in our bodies such as cortisol and adrenalin.
Ever walked outside into the sunlight and just smiled? It’s one of life’s simple pleasures but has a host of benefits too. Exposure to natural sunlight combined with physical activity increases serotonin levels, which boost our happiness and wellbeing. Those with a serotonin deficiency may suffer more from anxiety, fatigue and impaired cognitive function.
Sunlight also provides us with Vitamin D, which can help protect against a host of maladies from heart attacks to osteoporosis and depression. The effect of feeling the sun’s warmth on our skin can improve concentration and aid healing. Do of course take care in the summer sunshine and protect your skin adequately.
Exercising outside requires us to continually adapt to a changing environment. The body is constantly adjusting to changes in weather, temperature and terrain and this improves our mental focus as well as working different muscle groups. Compare the experience of hiking a countryside trail to powerwalking on a treadmill in the gym. Negotiating uneven ground involves more lateral body movement and utilises the core muscles required to stabilise us. Similarly, cycling outdoors requires a great deal more balance, control and coordination compared with using an exercise bike.
Natural landscapes stimulate our brains, providing us with a range of interesting and varied sights to take in. This visual distraction can work to decrease our rate of perceived exertion, enabling us to train harder and for longer periods of time.
There are also social and economic benefits in going outside to exercise. Many activities can be enjoyed for free and are a great way to get involved with the local community. From wildlife walks to organised litter picks and community gardening initiatives, there are a wealth of opportunities for participants to help preserve and enhance their local environment while making friends and getting fit.
We eat, sleep, work and play in climate-controlled environments. When we take into account that we spend more than 90 per cent of our time indoors and that the average adult requires 15,000 litres of clean air every day, going outside to improve our fitness, mindset and general wellbeing is literally a breath of fresh air.
One of the advantages of living in Hertfordshire is the abundance and diversity of open spaces and green exercise initiatives in the county. Whether you’re into outdoor swimming or yoga in the park, we’ve pulled together a sample of recreational activities in the county to benefit your body and spirit.
Walk your way to wellness
Herts County Council is running a series of free, led walks to encourage people of all ages and abilities to get more active outdoors. Coordinated by the Countryside Management Service, there are around 55 health walks happening each week across the county. For more information and to find walks happening in your area, visit hertfordshire.gov.uk
Ready, set, zumba!
Active North Herts is running outdoor exercise classes in a range of disciplines throughout the summer. New for this year is a Latin-inspired zumba dance workout, designed to improve cardio, coordination and general fitness. Classes take place on various days of the week in Hitchin, Letchworth, Baldock and Royston.
Other sessions organised by Active North Herts include yoga, tennis and fitness bootcamps. Classes start at £1 per week.
See activenorthherts.co.uk or contact Sam Halbert on 01462 474838.
We Moves, She Moves
Hertsmere Borough Council is running a new initiative to help women get fit. The We Moves, She Moves programme offers a range of one hour outdoor exercise classes including Boxing Fit – a combination of professional boxing techniques and circuit training to provide a high octane, full-body workout. Sessions take place at Ripon Park, Borehamwood on Tuesday from 7.30-8.30pm and at King George Recreation Ground, Bushey on Wednesday from 1-2pm. Other sessions include yoga, stroller strength, suspension training, body conditioning, golf, tennis and High Intensity Interval Training.
Yoga in the flowers
Many aspects of yoga focus on being at one with nature and the universe. Practising your asanas outside adds a different dimension to yoga practice, allowing the senses to be stimulated by drawing inspiration from the natural surroundings.
‘When I practice in the fields at Hitchin Lavender, I can feel the oxygen flowing through me, clearing my mind and empowering my practice,’ explains yoga teacher Aminta Gagnon. ‘When we leave the four walls of a studio, all of our senses wake up, allowing us to activate parts of our brain that make us more present.’
Aminta runs outdoor yoga classes at Hitchin Lavender farm in Ickleford every Tuesday throughout the summer from 6.30-7.30pm and 7.45-8.45pm.
Other outdoor yoga sessions in Shenley and Bushey are available on the We Moves, She Moves programme, above.
Running is a great way to exercise the heart and lungs. It can also reduce stress, improve stamina and boost the immune system. It doesn’t require any investment or special apparatus – just a pair of trainers and the desire to get moving.
If you need some motivation to keep those legs going and you’re looking to meet like-minded individuals to run (and chat) with, there are dozens of running clubs in the county. Hertfordshire Athletics Network’s website has a good list: hcan.co.uk/your-network/road-running-clubs
Tennis is a great way to exercise the whole body – the running, jumping and crouching involved works the legs, while the shoulders, upper back and core are strengthened in the action of hitting the ball. It can also help improve flexibility, bone heath, balance and coordination. And it’s fun (even if you’re no good).
Hertfordshire has an abundance of tennis clubs to cater for all levels and abilities. The Lawn Tennis Association website has a useful search engine to help find a club near you.
Get on your bike & ride
Cycling is a relatively low-impact activity that can help improve cardiovascular fitness without putting stress on your joints. The NHS says cycling for 150 minutes per week can help reduce the risk of heart disease, type two diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and obesity.
There are four different Cycle Touring Clubs in the county that run a variety of rides including off-road, leisure, performance, family and women-only.
Dive into a lido
Studies show that swimming outdoors, particularly in cold water, can increase your metabolism, boost circulation and aid sleep. Because water is 12 times denser than air, it’s also an extremely low-impact activity that is often recommended to those suffering from arthritis or recovering from injuries.
In Herts, we’re spoilt for choice with beautiful outdoor pools in Hemel Hempstead, Harpenden, Letchworth, Hitchin and Ware.
Look up your local council’s website for more information or visit swimming.org/poolfinder
On the water
The tranquillity that comes simply from being on or beside a lake or river is undeniable. Watersports such as sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding and water skiing work almost every part of the body while being relatively low impact. They can also help increase bone density and relieve stress and anxiety.
From sailing and windsurfing at Fairlands Valley Park in Stevenage to water skiing in Rickmansworth, diving in Bishop’s Stortford, and white water activities in Lee Valley, there’s no shortage of opportunities to get out on the water in the county.
Check out individual websites for more information or visit yumping.co.uk/water-sports/hertfordshire and touristnetuk.com/south-east-england/hertfordshire/activities/watersports
Work it out
Many local councils have installed a range of outdoor gym equipment in parks in a bid to encourage people to get fit in the open air. Free to use and easy to operate, there are cross trainers, recumbent bikes, leg press machines and workout stations for pull-ups and other body-weight exercises, all specially designed to provide low-impact training in an intuitive way.
Parks in Potters Bar, Stevenage, Abbots Langley, Harpenden, Hitchin, St Albans, Watford, Borehamwood and Elstree are just some of the recreational spaces in the county that feature outdoor gym equipment and trim trails. Visit your council’s website to see what’s on offer near you.