Head out into the big green gym to enjoy a natural high

Hampstead Heath and hIghgate Woods are on the doorstep, so why not try some outdoor training

The warm, low autumn sun, the cool spring breeze, a crisp snow-covered field and even the wild, wet winter wind are all part of the seasonal tapestry experienced with outdoor exercise. When we tap into our instinctive desire to connect physically with the natural world, not only do we improve our fitness, but we also boost our mental wellbeing.

Highgate Wood, Queen’s Wood and Hampstead Heath are all beautiful ancient woodlands providing easy gateways to the joys of outdoor fitness. But what are the benefits of outdoor training and will they be enough to brave the woods on a wet winter day?

When we are busy coping with the demands on our time, outdoor exercise gives our minds a much-needed rest and offers us a calm outlet from the worries of daily life. Even after five minutes of walking, our bodies will release endorphins, providing you with a natural feel-good factor.

The social benefits and pleasure of being outside really lifts the spirits. The community camaraderie and friendly atmosphere in the woods improves our wellbeing. Cheerful and positive connections are regularly made with others in the woods – older folks, dog walkers and mums with babies as well as with the busy wood keepers. It allows you to naturally tune into community life.

Outdoor training offers a new experience every day. The choices of routes and structure of the session can provide constant variety and challenges, keeping it fresh and interesting. Add strength exercises into the mix with press-ups against a bench or squats and lunges near a tree. Even if you are walking or running the same route every day, there will always be something new to see – the turning leaves, new mud-puddle formations and dramatic sky changes.

When we spend too much time indoors, we lose our connection with and awareness of nature, missing out on the very simple pleasures of subtle seasonal changes. Often, we get down about the weather and feel resentful about yet “more rain”. However, investing in some decent gear can empower you to get out whatever the weather and be glad of it. Once you are layered up, you can take on any kind of day and realise just how uplifting it is to be outside exercising.

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Often, people can feel self-conscious about exercising in a gym environment. The “green gym” belongs to everyone and is suitable to all abilities. Our bodies are designed to walk and run – both are simple and effective. Walking is the first starting point and, when done at a fast pace, can be as effective a calorie burner as running. Power walking is a terrific low-impact alternative to running and can be quite challenging, especially if you take on hills or spice it up with intervals or bursts of light running.

Embarking on an outdoor exercise programme is fantastically flexible and free. Lace up your trainers, head outside and you’ve already taken the first steps! You can do it whenever and wherever you like and for as long or short a time as you have available. Once you’ve established the habit of training outdoors near your home, then you will find that you can always exercise – on holiday or while visiting friends, just pack the trainers and off you go.

Like with most things in life, making a commitment usually helps us to get it done. Signing up for an outdoor group session (walking, running, circuit training) or using a personal trainer (PT) for one-to-one outdoor exercise sessions can be very encouraging. So if you like the idea of heading out to the woods but lose your motivation when the first drop of rain comes, then joining a group or using a PT might offer the needed structure and support to succeed. Exercising in a group or with a PT is a social, fun and safe way to connect with people, while getting fit.

The trick to falling in love with outdoor training is to get started. Seasonally, autumn is the most inviting time to get going – the days are mild with golden leaves appearing. Find a training partner, join a group or just go solo. Write your goal on a post-it, pop it on the fridge, lace up and embark on a new habit that can take you through the wilds of winter and onto a surprising journey of a lifetime, enhancing your body, mind and soul.

Bridgit Napleton is a personal trainer specialising in outdoor fitness. She holds daily classes in Highgate Woods on weekday mornings from 9.30am. Email napleton@yahoo.com, www.green-fit.co.uk, mobile 07779 591 101.