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Graham Pound's Personal Training Blog

Talking all things health and fitness

As part of my continued personal development I am studying a degree in Sports, Fitness and Coaching. This means I spend a lot of time at my laptop reading all about health, fitness and sport. This blog is a place for me to share snippets of material I have studied with you and talk about how I think it can be applied to the everyday athlete.

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The Great Outdoors

Last weekend I took part in a charity trek with my daughter across The Peak District. We walked 22 miles across one of the most natural and untouched parts of the British countryside. It got me thinking about outdoor activity and whether, as a PT, it was down to me to promote it to my clients. It's been proven that being outside improves mental health massively and byproducts of outdoor activities are improved physical health as well as social aspects I'll touch on later. Digging deep into the depths of my memory, 2006 GCSE PE taught me that health is a state of complete physical, social and mental well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (or something like that anyway, it was a long time ago). As a business my product is Health. Outdoor activity hits all three points. So, I think it is my job; if I can get people outdoors I'm helping them improve their health. I've done a bit of reading and I'm going to try and explain to you why you should be getting outside to help you on a path to a longer, happier, healthier life.

The negative health impacts of built up areas and the sedentary lifestyles they encourage have been the subject of research for a very long time. As far back as the 1890's in fact when parks were being built in cities with the sole purpose of tackling said issue. Back then someone said it, probably someone in a suit and everyone believed it without much need for persuasion. Since then however, research has been proving the hypothesis over and over again.

Let's start by looking at the dangers of being inside as a pose to the benefits of being outside. One research study by the California Air Resource board found the level of air pollutants inside to be over 25% greater than outside. We aren't in California but, they are comparable to us. They are just as developed and culturally similar, in my opinion that makes this research worth taking on board. Another danger is the fact you are normally less than 10 steps from your fridge. How often have you had what I'll call a 'boredom browse' for tasty snacks. That doesn't happen as often when you're outside because you're normally too busy doing whatever activity you went out to do or you're taking in the scenery. It's worth mentioning here, when I say outside I mean in nature, not walking round the block past the corner shop, a boredom browse in there is far more dangerous.

Stress is a massive issue in modern society. Deadlines at work, kids to look after, bills to pay and there is no escaping it. Emails continue to fly in even past work hours on smartphones which are never far from reach. The HSE published that in 2021/2022 17 Million days of work were lost to stress, depression or anxiety. I've personally been signed off of work with depression and it's debilitating. I'm jealous of anyone who makes statements like 'he's playing the mental health card' when a colleague has a day off sick because, to make a statement like that, you've clearly been lucky enough to never have had to go through it. Stress increases the risk of heart disease, cancer and generally decreases your immunity. Just being in the rat race which is the modern world is enough to increase stress, that constant stimulation from everything around you. Research carried out in 2001 proved that a natural landscape reduced that stimulation massively. Green surroundings and animals engage our attention effortlessly. It gives your brain a quite often much needed break from the chaos unfolding around you every day. This break from stimulation in turn lowers your stress levels.

Natural areas have been shown to have a rejuvenating effect. These areas include the absolute wilderness to community parks; even just being surrounded by house plants has been shown to have a similar effect. I think we should view these places as a tool to reduce our stress levels before they get too much. Make yourself regular time to get outdoors and be accountable for it. Just as accountable as you hold yourself to the work deadlines. After all, if the stress gets too great, you could end up contributing to those 17 million lost days of work. Stress does have its place. A little pressure will increase productivity. That's been proven. High levels of stress have the opposite effect though. You'll be more useful in any given task if you keep your stress levels in check.

Another great benefit which I touched on earlier was the social aspect of being outside. This is twofold. Firstly there's the interaction with complete strangers. It could be as small as a quick chat with a dog walker you see every week. You probably won't even get to know their name but just that quick smile and a hello can be enough to lift your spirits and help you feel a little more positive about your day. The other side of it is that outdoor activities are far easier to get friends and family involved with. Most people are far more likely to agree to a walk through a local country park than they are to want to squat in the gym with you. Having the chance to have real human interaction in a quiet and calm environment is something becoming more and more rare in the busy, technology filled world most of us live in.

Following on from the point I made about it being easier to get friends and family involved in outdoor activities, one point to make is you can get your kids involved too. Children lead by example. If you read they read, if you train they want to train, if you stay indoors playing on your phone and boredom browse the fridge every 20 minutes, guess what they'll do. Childhood mental health is on the decline and if you're a parent reading this, you can give them a tool to help them by teaching them to immerse themselves in nature. This is especially important for inner city kids as evidence suggests they are more likely to suffer with mental health issues. For the most part natural spaces are also free to use making them accessible to all.

The final point I'll make is to do with making this time outside part of your training. From a PT point of view I follow the FITT principle, as will every other PT in some way, shape or form. It stands for Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type. Some people will read this and think, a walk in the park isn't going to tax me enough to be able to class it as training so why bother, I don't have time. To you I will say, I took me 3 days to fully recover from my trek on the Peak District. I walked for 10 hours over arduous terrain whilst carrying 2 peoples supplies on my back. That was training that taxed me plenty. You can use the FITT principle to make outdoor training suit you. Frequency - for someone who walks once a week, go two or three times. Intensity - If you find walking easy, find tougher terrain, carry some load or up it to a jog. Time - If you can walk or jog easily for half hour, do 45 minutes instead. Type - If you find walking or jogging boring, take your bike. You can make being outdoors for your training as easy or as hard as you want it to be. I recommend you do it once a week if you can.

So there it is. Short and sweet this time. Go outside, the research says you should and I promise you, it does feel good.

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