It’s that time of year again where we get bombarded by gym membership ads. Festive gluttony replaced by New Year guilt. It’s a time for knuckling down and tightening belts, as if belts weren’t tight enough already.
You promised yourself that 2019 will be the year. No excuses, no corners cut. You will be a ripped Adonis. You will have an arse that’s the envy of Instagram. Meanwhile, the advertising industry bombards us with campaigns designed to pile guilt upon guilt. Congratulations, it’s January! You’re now too fat, too indolent, you’re drinking too much and not being vegan enough.
So, what do we do if the prospect of the gym seems unappealing? Well, last weekend, in an attempt to keep at least one New Year’s resolution, I tried something new and went coasteering for the first time. It was a revelation. We climbed, we scrambled, we took a leap of faith into the sea 30 feet below. We were battered by waves. We experienced the awesome power of nature. We clung to each other for support, we put our trust in complete strangers. And we did so without question. We helped each other out, we bonded, we experienced a camaraderie, then as tired and happy as after any gym session, we said goodbye and went our separate ways.
It was brilliant, thrilling, exhilarating, exhausting, and life-affirming. It’s also another thing added to the ‘Why haven’t I been doing this all my life?’ list. Can anyone honestly say they’ve felt their life affirmed the last time they snapped a pic of their own bottom in a gym mirror?
The unsociable gym
Gyms can feel like quite introspective places at times. They’re not really a place we go to meet people, to interact, to chat or have a laugh, they are singular of purpose, you go there to get fit and/or look good. For that, they do the trick quite nicely. In the gym we’re surrounded by people, but so often alone. Alone, but without solitude. In contrast, if it’s solitude you’re after, a winter run across the North Dorset Downs can at times leave you feeling like the last person on earth.
Whether you like the near meditative state of running alone, enjoy the sociable aspect of swimming with family, or the adrenaline rush of a muddy mountain bike ride with mates, there’s something for every mood and occasion. It’s often easier to find a pal who is up for an adventure rather than a sweaty gym session.
Admittedly, an outdoor activity requires more planning than the gym, but it can be incredibly rewarding. A run along the South West Coast path rewards with breath-taking views around every headland, and enough lung-bursting, leg-burning climbs to render any step machine redundant.
At this or any time of year, an invigorating plunge into the sea, or your local secret swimming spot is an experience not to be missed. You could challenge yourself to swim through the iconic arch at Durdle Door, or traverse the 3.5km stretch of coastline between West Bay East Beach and Hive Bay near Bridport. The physical and mental benefits of a cold water plunge have long been touted by scientists, claiming it can improve circulation, boost the immune and digestive systems. That may all be true, but one thing’s for certain; it feels bloody good!
A 5mm winter wetsuit can make the open water incredibly accessible during the winter, and can be used throughout most of the year in Britain, making it a worthwhile investment for any number of water-based activities. Shop around carefully and you may even be able to pick up an ex-hire wetsuit from a surf shop for next to nothing. If you’re looking for like-minded people to share the experience with, as well advice, tips and training, open water and wild swimming clubs are rising rapidly in popularity.
I like the gym generally, but we’re on a bit of a break at the moment. I simply can’t be arsed to have an arse that’s the envy of Instagram. Maybe one day soon I’ll muster the courage to go back, tail between legs and apologise for having neglected her, having taken her for granted for so long. I’ll promise I’ve changed and that I’m now ready to commit.
In the meantime, I’m going to spend as much as possible exploring the outdoors in all its glorious technicoloured beauty.
Whether it’s in the gym, or the great outdoors, anything that enables us to get active can only be a good thing. However, there’s something about exercising outdoors that’s undeniably good for the soul as well as the body. We’re lucky enough to have been blessed with some amazing scenery in Britain, much of it just beyond our doorstep, waiting to be explored. And while we’re exploring, if that has the added benefit of allowing us to blow off some steam, boost our happy endorphins and improve our mental health, then that’s just fine by me.
See you on the outside.
17 January 2019 by Ben Lewis