Spending time outdoors is one of the surest ways to improve health and happiness – overwhelming evidence shows it is really, really good for us and makes us happier, less stressed, more creative, more socially connected. Just being in natural green space can improve short-term memory and focus, reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, ease anxiety and depression, and boost overall immune response. Fresh air and natural light support healthier respiratory function, more balanced circadian rhythms, better and deeper sleep. The organic compounds released by trees are said to have antibacterial properties, and the scents of plant oils and microbes in the soil, especially after rainfall, to have a direct calming effect on brain wave activity.  Confirming what we instinctively know, research shows the natural environment has profoundly positive effects on mental health and physical well-being. Exercise feels easier, more fun and liberating when done outdoors than inside. With all this going for it, no wonder spending more time outdoors promotes longevity! Not given to exhibitionism, Brits can feel self-conscious exercising in open public spaces yet with so much to gain it’s worth ignoring the odd look from bemused passers-by to embrace moving outdoors.  In the time of coronavirus urban greenspace is proving its worth as a true saving grace. So be it Tai Chi, walking, running, skipping, Pilates, yoga, keep fit, kick-boxing, football, meditating, cycling, whatever’s your thing – take a breath of fresh air, soften your gaze, look to the horizon – there’s no wrong way to get moving outside!

If you’re wondering how to get started try this sequence below:

WARM UP

Loosen Up: Begin standing, pounding your heels steadily on the ground, alternately R & L. This will send light impacts up through the body to stimulate bone health and the same time, you can let your hips sway and loosen up your waist and warms up your whole body. Zigzag Twist: Lift both heels just off the floor and swivel them both to the R and then L, keep going, bend your elbows – with a little bounce, do the twist. Add on doing some baby jumps, or run on the spot or star jumps.

BREATHING

Stand with your arms down by your sides. Breathe in through your nose for 3 counts raising your arms away from your body, exhale through pursed lips for 3 counts lowering arms back down to your sides. Repeat twice. Then inhale for 4 counts raise arms a bit higher, exhale for 4 arms lower. Inhale for 5 raise arms to shoulder level, exhale 5 lowering. Inhale 6 counts arms raise above shoulder level, exhale for 6 as arms lower. Repeat on 7 counts, and then on 8 counts, raise arms overhead and lower. Then breathe naturally sense volume & ease. Image: your arms are an extension of your  ribs / reach  out  like  hands of a  clock. This exercise strengthens the capacity  of the lungs.

SQUATS: Bend your knees into a squat, without rounding your back but looking forward with your chest lifted, keeping knees over your toes, then pressing your feet into the floor to stand back upright. Repeat several  times.

LUNGE SWING UP: Start in a lunge position with L leg forwards. Inhale, straightening the L leg, swing R leg forwards with bent  knee bent bringing L hand to R knee. As the R leg lowers, step back on it into a  lunge again. Repeat 3 x, then step forwards into a lunge on the R leg with the L foot back. Repeat with the L leg swinging the knee up to meet R hand 3 x. Repeat each side again. Both loosens and strengthens the hip muscles (flexors and extensors), develops balance standing on one leg, coordination with a cross-lateral opposition pattern.

BALANCE & BREATH / LUNGE WITH ARM CIRCLES: Step into a deep lunge, connect your feet into the ground, lift and lengthen upwards through the core of your body. Draw your shoulder blades down into your back. Breathe in and begin to circle the opposite arm to front leg 4x.  Step up out of your lunge and then step the other foot back into lunge and arm circles with the other side. Change to the first side and circle the arm in the other direction to before. Repeat on the other sides. Try both arms together circling forwards and then backwards. This works the muscles around the shoulders and opens the chest, strengthens hips and legs, improves balance and confidence.

SCOOTER: Start in a squat with your hands on your hips, lift your  belly. Inhale, stretch one leg backwards. Keep the torso still. Exhale, bend it back in. Repeat 3-5 x. Change to the other leg. Add challenge by the back leg off the  floor and arms overhead, bring the arms and  back leg in with spine curl, knee towards face, and out again…. Strengthens the butt muscles and back chain of muscles and is a challenge for the balance.

SINGLE LEG STRETCH:Lift R knee and with both hands slowly pull it up towards your chest as you exhale. Inhale, stand on both feet taking both arms overhead. Repeat alternating R/L in a steady rhythm to build coordination, balance and core control. Add challenge by curving the upper spine forwards each time and taking your eyeline down to the knee as it lifts towards your face.

SPINE TWIST: Step one foot in front of the other. Inhale, arms outstretched to the sides at shoulder level (or in a low ‘V’). Exhale, rotate from the waist to the same side as front foot. Inhale, your chest come centre and exhale, turn to the other side. Feel the bottom of your feet to the floor and rise through the crown of your head.  Keep the arms at the sides – not crossing the body.  After 3-5 twists to each side, step your feet together. Then step the other foot in front and repeat all. The closer together the feet are, the more challenging it is to balance so if need be stand with your feet apart to begin.

If you are new to exercise begin slowly and build up gradually. Please consult your GP or a medical  professional if you have any condition that may be affected by attempting these exercises or you are unsure about your ability. If you experience pain whilst exercising stop and if symptoms persist always seek advice from a medical professional – even during a lockdown.

Karen Hall is a qualified teacher of Pilates, Yoga and Exercise for managing low back pain. Email: karenmoves@gmail.com

FEEL ALIVE EXERCISING OUTDOORS