Spring is just around the corner, so now is the time to re-connect with nature as you exercise. If you’ve spent the winter in a stuffy gym or at home on a treadmill, then allow the warmer weather to call you back outside. Not only is it more sociable, the surroundings are more interesting, which, in turn, will motivate you to enjoy exercise more. And when that’s the case – you’ll do it more too. But with so many choices –what will suit you best? Here’s our pick of some of the most enjoyable and varied activities to choose from: 1) TENNIS What could be more British than a bit of tennis? It’s a really energetic game that can use up over 500 calories an hour if you’re working hard. Tennis is good for both aerobic and anaerobic fitness as it burns fat and improves cardiovascular fitness too. It’s also excellent for co-ordination (think of the movement and body adjustments needed to hit the ball). Flexibility is key here too – it’s all about stretching and manoeuvring. There’s a great charity called Tennis For Free that aims to bring the game to the wider community www.tennisforfree.com – they run family sessions. Alternatively – contact the local council to see what they have. Or, if you’re really serious – join a local club for guaranteed games and high standards. 2) RUNNING The key with running is a slow start, increasing distance or time at around 10% a week. This may be frustrating if you’re really keen, but it allows the joints and muscles to adapt slowly, and avoids the chances of muscle pain or joint problems. Do invest in good running shoes to absorb shock – otherwise you’ll increase your chance of developing shin splints. Choose your surface well – grass and paths are softer than tarmac, but often hide trip hazards like holes and stones. Running is an excellent cardiovascular exercise, and has also been found to be as effective as medication when treating some people for depression. Plan your programme well to benefit most from your work. Or join a local club – they are geared to all ages, abilities and aims. 3) WALKING One of the best sports, walking is easy on the joints, undemanding in terms of equipment, and allows you to burn calories at a modest rate too. Current national guidelines recommend exercise (such as brisk walking) for 30 minutes, most days in a week in order to ward off chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. If your aim is to lose weight – aim for an hour’s walking a day but try and incorporate it into daily life – that way it won’t seem like a chore. Walk the kids to school, or leave the car behind when you pop to the store. And don’t forget the dog!!! Their basic needs could be your saviour too. 4) PARKOUR Probably not a sport for anyone less than supremely fit, Parkour (or ‘freerunning’) involves running, jumping, climbing over and through any terrain. It requires strength, fitness, spatial awareness, precision, control, co-ordination and creative vision. One of the opening scenes in James Bond’s Casino Royale featured parkour, with the villain scaling a crane, leaping from the arm, running cross rooftops and the like. That was an extreme example, but demonstrated superbly what levels of skill can be achieved. Parkour UK www.parkouruk.org aims to support and develop the sport in the UK to anyone who wants to learn and improve their confidence, determination, self-discipline and self-reliance. 5) OUTDOOR GYMS Outdoor gyms are becoming increasingly popular all over the country and are the perfect way to spice up a walk with a few more interesting activities. They generally include a piece of equipment to work every part of the body and they are a low-impact, fun and cheap way to exercise. The Great Outdoor Gym Company is responsible for over 400 of them nationwide. They have a searchable database of their own gyms – just type in your postcode to locate the nearest one. www.tgogc.com 6) HILL RUNNING A tough sport that can’t help but improve fitness levels if you’re serious about it. Hill running is all about endurance, and can reap benefits including improvements in stride frequency and length, muscle strength and power, neuromuscular co-ordination, running economy, fatigue resistance, muscular endurance, speed, aerobic and anaerobic power and protects leg muscle-fibres against damage and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). This blog gives a large amount of information www.runnersworld.co.uk/general/everything-you-need-to-know-about-hill-training/159.html 7) KAYAKING As one of the fastest-growing sports in the UK, Kayaking is primarily an upper-body activity, but it also works the muscles of the centre of the body, back, and stomach. Beginners should start by taking a class or clinic in a pool or flat-water location, where they will learn the basics like rolling the kayak and how to read water conditions. It’s a fun, scenic way to take exercise, but obviously, unless you live near water, it’s a sport that will probably only be reserved for spare time and weekends. Check out www.onthewater.co.uk for information and how to get started. 8) BOOTCAMPS We’ve seen them all over the country – in parks and open spaces, large groups of people being put through their paces by a fitness instructor. Although the participants often look as if they’d rather be anywhere else at that moment, they are buying into the group camaraderie and the real work ethic these groups provide. Nobody is allowed to slack – it’s all about grit and determination. From press ups to squats to weights, it’s a cross between the gym and cross-country – not for slackers! There are lots of different levels of bootcamps (Team Bootcamp, Military Fitness, Xtreme Bootcamp etc), so be sure to choose one that suits you. Or if you are a glutton for punishment, there are boot camp retreats and holidays available too. 9) HIKING Hiking uses a lot of up-and-down movement, so along with the cardiovascular benefits there’s a great leg workout too! More energetic than walking, and not nearly as demanding as running or hill running, hiking is a relaxing pursuit that probably won’t feel like a workout at all. Choose an appropriate hike for your level of fitness. Make it scenic, go along with a friend, and walk for a few hours – it’s a great way to de-stress. You'll just need a good pair of hiking boots, a backpack (to carry water and supplies), and possibly a walking stick. 10) OUTDOOR SWIMMING Swimming is a wonderful cardiovascular conditioner that also helps tones arms and legs, and it's very easy on the joints, which makes it ideal for anyone with joint or muscle problems as the weightlessness of the water makes exercise relatively pain-free. Swimming will increase your stamina, can help ward off diabetes and high blood pressure, and relieves stress. All you need is swimwear and maybe some goggles. When swimming outdoors NEVER dive into unknown waters as you may incur head injury on hidden rocks or debris. NEVER swim in quarries or places that are not open to the public. Choose public pools, lidos or beaches with lifeguards. 11) CYCLING A great way to get the blood pumping, and an excellent way to really see around the neighbourhood, either in your local park, or along bike paths or trails. While running tends to target the hamstrings, cycling uses the quadriceps (the muscles on the front of the thighs) more. If you haven’t cycled for a while, take it easy initially. Or build up stamina on a bike at the gym. However, once you do get out, make sure your bike ‘fits’ your body properly, otherwise the back or knees will be under huge amounts of stress. Equipment: You need a bike, a helmet, and gloves with a little palm padding, which will absorb vibration and cushion your hands in a spill. It's also a good idea to learn basic bike repair, in case something happens whilst you’re out cycling. It’s no fun wheeling home a damaged bike for miles! 12) FOOTBALL The beautiful sport! From grassroots football to adult teams in the park on a Sunday, footy is a sociable, active game that involves cardiovascular activity, co-ordination, speed and concentration. Great too for stamina when it’s played in longer bursts, it’s suitable for children and adults – both men and women. Just find a few friends and a patch of grass, and go for it! Regardless of your choices, the important thing is that you’re exercising. Try as many sports out as you can, until you find something you like. When you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll do it more often. Good luck!