The benefits of being outdoors for mental health and wellbeing have been discussed on this podcast many times. Each time you, my listeners, have expressed a great interest in this subject. So, today, we are back at it with Philip Stallard, who is a Director and Adventure Therapist at New Wave Adventure Therapy which offers outdoors based therapeutic intervention grounded in the disciplines of psychotherapy, counselling and social work.
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.
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!
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.
The title of this article is a little misleading, as I don’t think that running is a good choice of exercise for weight loss. In my opinion, it is one of the worst ways to go about it. It’s important to note, I’m referring here to the type of running known as jogging and not to sprints, which are an entirely different type of physical activity.
It is common knowledge that to achieve positive results in any attempt at body transformation, consistency and persistence are the key factors. Unfortunately, these are more difficult to achieve with running than with most other types of physical activity. Compared to other types of exercise, to achieve tangible results, running requires a significantly bigger time investment. The risk of injury is higher and the results come slower.
To initiate the fat burning process in our bodies, while running at a slow to moderate pace, we need between 30 and 45 minutes. This means that if we run for one hour, we only get 20 minutes of fat burning activity. This inefficient process needs to be repeated week after week, month after month and yes, year after year. All of the above makes our running commitment hard to sustain, especially during winter months when the days are short and the weather doesn’t encourage us to go outdoors.
Running, together with powerlifting and crossfit, is one of the top three most damaging types of training. Running is also considered an impact sport, like boxing, football or hockey. The damaging effects are amplified by the fact that most people wanting to lose weight are, well, overweight, which puts even more load on their joints. For this reason at least 80% of people who run, sooner or later, end up with an injury.
Long distance running is one of the great classic endurance sports. I have no intention here to discourage anyone from trying it and developing a passion for it. However, if your goal is to control your storage body fat, there are much better and more effective ways to do that. My personal recommendation would be to try one of the many types of high-intensity workouts. They stimulate our metabolism in a way that extends the fat burning process beyond the duration of the exercise. There is no point taking on running, dreading it, and then only thinking about not having to do it anymore. In that situation you are more likely to stop doing it due to an injury, rather than to having achieved your goal.
To find out more about running and weight loss, check out episode 3 of the podcast where I talk with Mike Kissane, a seasoned marathon runner.