Benefits of the outdoors

This article was posted earlier this year as a guest entry on the DigiGranBiz travel blog. Unfortunately the aforementioned blog no longer exists, so I decided to publish a slightly refreshed version of the original text here on Tommy’s Outdoors website.

 

Taking on outdoor activities is like a cure for the damaging, sedentary lifestyle that most of us are living. Our bodies are fundamentally built for movement. Prolonged hours in the same, often unnatural position, are damaging to our musculoskeletal system. Similarly our minds are built for a challenge, but not for the persistent stress that we receive in microdoses daily.

The solution is not simply a matter of going to the gym and exercising. For proper functioning our bodies and minds also need fresh air, the sounds of nature, and the light that comes from the central star known as the sun. While in nature we can disconnect from our own entangled thoughts. We can start paying attention to our surroundings and how they influence us. We will quickly notice that our minds stabilize and become relaxed. The tension in our muscles goes away. Our mood lifts.

Getting into nature also lets us leave behind most of the pollution generated by civilization. Fossil fuel fumes, chemicals, overwhelming noise, excess of the blue light generated by ubiquitous screens, and electrosmog. The harmful effects of most of these are well known and documented. The effects of others are still unknown.

Staying in a natural environment for a few days offers further benefits. The circadian rhythm, unnaturally distorted by ever-present artificial lighting, resets and begins to work in its natural way. Our eating habits begin to return to their normal pattern of around 15 hours of fasting and 9 hours of feeding.

Finally, our spiritual side gets an enormous boost. Connection with the natural environment that surrounds us, a mountain, the sea, or a forest, is very real and almost palpable. It forces us to ask the timeless questions about our own existence and place on this earth.

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I hope that this short text encouraged you to spend more time in nature and to do so more consciously. The benefits are countless and the drawbacks are none. And if you feel like you are getting the bug, come back and visit this website more often and immerse yourself in the world of the outdoors. Also, subscribe to the podcast on the platform of your choice (Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, SoundCloud, TuneIn, Podbean and more). See you in the outdoors!

Sportsmen and Ecologists

While recording episodes of the podcast I get to meet and speak with people involved in the outdoors. Most of them are interested in the use and preservation of the natural environment. Among those people two distinct groups stand out the most: sportsmen, most often represented by hunters and anglers, and ecologists as in conservationists and environmentalists. In theory, they should represent one consistent front for protection of the natural environment. Unfortunately this is not always the case. Oftentimes representatives of these groups are involved in a counterproductive confrontation with each other. So, let’s dive into this issue and try to understand some of the reasons why this is happening.

For starters, let’s look at the common ground they share. Genuine ecologists are usually research scientists or employees of governmental or non-governmental bodies involved in the protection and management of natural resources. Of course we all know there are self proclaimed, shouty types, but I’m not going to talk about them here. Whenever I have an opportunity to talk to environmentalists I always ask the question, “Do you see sportsmen as allies in the efforts to protect the environment or as adversaries?” Based on the responses so far, I gather that sportsmen are mostly recognized as important stakeholders. Ecologists also recognize that they are an invaluable source of information about the state of the environment. It is because hunters and anglers spent lots of time in the outdoors and have an opportunity to observe nature and the changes it undergoes over time. They are often referred to as the boots on the ground.

Sportsmen also recognize the important role of ecologists as a source of information about wildlife and the environment. They also recognize that ecologists work to protect the resources they interact with. Wild game and fish. And here is where the tension starts. Ecologists often feel that sportsmen repeatedly engage in practices aimed mainly at their own interest, to the detriment of conservation. For example, when engaging in catch and release, they place more importance on taking a trophy photo with the fish over promptly releasing it back to the water. On the flip side, on many occasions sportsmen consider some of the regulations as limiting their activities unnecessarily.

It is not my intention to judge which side is right. Each case is different and everybody makes mistakes. Unfortunately, as the result of these tensions, the opportunity to create a combined, strong and environmentally minded front is lost. Sportsmen are often reluctant to engage in conservation initiatives worried that their interest won’t be recognized and they will find themselves on the wrong side of the equation. On the other hand, ecologists are reluctant to reach out to sportsmen for support, being afraid of a backlash.

It is my strong belief that true hunters and anglers are also environmentalists and conservationists. It is in their own interest, after all, that the waters are full of fish and the woods are full of wild game. In fact, there are many people who belong to both groups. It is not unheard of for a game and wildlife officer to also be an avid hunter or angler. These days, the natural environment is under more pressure from human activity than ever before. Only combined efforts to protect it can be successful. Sportsmen, ecologists, environmentalists and anybody else to whom nature is dear, should pull together. They should bury the discord about the way they intend to use it, and work together to protect it. Otherwise there will be nothing left to use anyway.

Cycling 101 – part 3 – Health Concerns

Welcome to part 3 of this blog series dedicated to getting started with cycling. In this instalment we are going to discuss the impact cycling has on health.

Cycling and health

As controversial as this sounds, in my opinion, cycling is not the greatest sport in relation to health benefits. Don’t get me wrong. It is a great way for people of all ages and abilities to be active and to spend time in the outdoors. However, it is also important to be aware of its possible negative effects.

Without a doubt one of the best known health benefits of cycling is the cultivation of cardiovascular capacity. Large muscle groups, like the quadriceps, get activated. That forces the heart and lungs to supply oxygen-rich blood to the working muscle tissues. That in turn has a positive impact on metabolism and triggers a series of beneficial hormonal responses. The mechanism described above increases energy expenditure, the burning of calories, which may help you lose weight.

Unfortunately, we often prefer to look only at the positives and not acknowledge the negatives. Cycling is not good for our posture. As a matter of fact, while cycling we are spending a substantial amount of time, often long hours, in a relatively static and unnatural position. While our legs are working hard, our torso and upper body remain almost motionless. In addition, our upper body is leaning forward, especially on road and racing bicycles. This puts a lot of pressure on our vertebrae, from L1 to S1. The more aerodynamically aggressive the position on the bike, the greater the pressure. This means that the condition known as sciatica or lower back pain is quite common among cyclists.

Now let’s talk about the upper body. When cycling hard we often tend to tense our shoulders, neck and jaw. It is known as “hugging the ears with the shoulders”. It is important to pay attention and keep the upper body relaxed. Failure to do so leads to neck and shoulder pain. Also the unnatural pressure on our cervical vertebrae can cause numbness in our hands and arms.

Finally, the saddle. Most cyclists recognize that prolonged time on the bicycle can result in a sore bottom. It’s commonly said that this discomfort is felt only for the first 1000 miles in the season. In reality, however, a saddle is the part of the bicycle that should be carefully chosen to match the cyclist’s body type and spacing between his or her sit bones. Failure to use the correct saddle results in damaging pressure applied to the soft tissue in the perineal area. This can lead to many serious conditions like numbness or erectile dysfunction.

Now let’s look at some simple measures to mitigate the potential problems described above. Firstly, I always say that riding a bicycle is not the best way to get in shape. Actually, you need to train and get in shape to ride a bicycle. While this statement might be an exaggeration there is more than just a grain of truth in it. It is especially important to develop a strong and flexible core. This muscle complex is of paramount importance for anatomical posture and support. A strong core will provide much needed support and stabilization for the spine. This in turn will prevent lower back pain, stabilize the torso and provide a stable platform that will help to relax the upper body.

Another important and often neglected step is to get a bike fit. It is often reduced to just setting the correct saddle height. That is insufficient. In order to enjoy riding your bicycle and to avoid injury you should get a professional bike fit. During the fitting, a professional will measure the position of your torso, ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows and head, while in motion. Along with your saddle height, he or she will adjust the stem length, the handlebars position, pedal alignment and many other aspects of bicycle geometry to match your body type and fitness level. For example, more flexible riders with a strong core can assume a more aerodynamic but demanding position. Riders with a lower level of fitness should be positioned more upright. Choosing the right saddle is also one of the key steps during the bicycle fit process. Note, that this step might take a few attempts and some kilometers ridden before a suitable saddle will be selected. The bicycle fit should be repeated at least every couple of years as our bodies and fitness levels are changing. A cyclist with a relaxed upright position, after a few years of training, might be able to ride in a more demanding position as their strength and flexibility improves. On the flip side, with age, riders might need to relax their position on the bicycle in order to enjoy cycling for many years to come.

Check back for part 4 of Cycling 101 in a few weeks and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss the next blog post.

Cycling 101 – part 2

Welcome to part 2 of this blog series dedicated to getting started with cycling.

Other equipment

Once you have your ideal bicycle there are a few things you need to buy to fully enjoy it. I would argue, that first and foremost you need to buy a helmet. In some parts of the world bicycle helmets are mandatory. Regardless of your local legislation, it is a good idea to wear one just for your own safety. The same goes for bicycle lights. Front and rear. With increased traffic and increasingly distracted drivers, bicycle lights are not only for nighttime. There are plenty of available day running lights that will make you visible to drivers from a distance of up to 2 miles.

You will also need a few things to maintain your bicycle, whether you are on the roadside or at home. First and foremost, you will need a pump and spare inner-tubes. Ideally you would have two pumps. A small one, that you can fit into the pocket of your cycling jersey, and a bigger one for convenient use at home. It is also a good idea to have tyre levers to help you change tubes. When out cycling, make sure you always have two spare inner-tubes, a pump, and tyre levers. If you are running tubeless tyres, you should buy a special pump capable of releasing an instant burst of air for tubeless tyre seating.

The final piece of must-have equipment is a multitool. Ideally it would have basic allen keys, a screwdriver, and a chain-tool. Sometimes you have to buy the chain tool separately. I learned the hard way how important it is to have one, when my chain broke while I was still 50 miles from home.

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Now let’s take a look at the rider. That’s you. In endurance sports, like cycling, hydration is one of the most important factors that determine performance. Even if you are not planning to push your limits, staying hydrated is important for your health. To be able to hydrate while on the bike, you will need a pair of water-bottles and two cages fixed to the bicycle frame to hold them. Initially you might get away with only one, but as soon as you start to embark on longer spins, a second water-bottle becomes very handy. And, don’t buy cheap bottles. Spend extra money on quality bottles made from BPA free plastic. They will not only last longer but will benefit your health and the environment.

Finally, get yourself a set of dedicated cycling clothes. Being a typical male, I will leave the discussion about fashion to someone more qualified. I just want to point out that quality, technical clothes, dedicated to the cycling discipline of your choice, will make you more comfortable and hence perform better. The benefits include things like moisture wicking, improved aerodynamics and better visibility on the road. Cycling shorts with chamois, for example, will help to massively reduce saddle soreness. If you are cycling off-road, you should consider getting additional body protectors for your knees or elbows. And, if you are riding those gnarly off-road trails I recommend getting full body armour to protect your spine and chest.

Check back for part 3 of Cycling 101 in two weeks and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss the next blog post.