If you’re struggling to find the motivation to keep New Year’s resolutions when it comes to getting fit, researchers have found that exercising in forests is the perfect natural antidote to hitting a steamy, sweaty gym.
Studies show that forests make physical activity feel easier and more enjoyable compared to working out indoors, while getting active in forests can provide a much-needed distraction from fatigue and also increase satisfaction. And, if you need more reasons to lace up your boots and hit the trails, forests have also been shown to boost the immune system and help people stay active longer.
Forestry England, the largest provider of outdoor recreation, is encouraging people to get outside this winter for the sake of their mental and physical health.
A new survey has found that more than two-thirds of people (68%) in the UK think they spend too much time inside between October and March. Almost four in five people (79%) who agreed they didn’t go outside enough said they regretted it.
With more than 1,500 forests and woods in England and over half of the population living within six miles of their nearest forest, woodlands offer a huge range of activities from gentle to vigorous, including walking, cycling, horse-riding, nature trails, and mountain biking.
Some of our forests also offer organised activities – from primal pilates, trail running, and HIIT at Bedgebury Pinetum to park runs and junior park runs up and down the country. Find your nearest forest with Forestry England’s forest finder at their website.
Ellen Devine, well-being projects manager at Forestry England, said: ‘Skipping the gym in favour of a run or walk in the forest is a perfect opportunity to get on the path to fitness while also getting fresh air, recharging from the day, and taking in the sights and sounds of nature.
‘And there’s so much to see – even in winter, the tree canopy is alive with wildlife, from long-tailed tits foraging on the forest floor to young tawny owls calling to establish their territory as night falls. It’s no wonder research has found that forests offer welcome distractions in comparison to working out indoors. Spending time outdoors is a win-win for our bodies and our minds.’
Alongside the physical benefits, getting outdoors and into the forest also plays a major role in improving people’s well-being and helping to alleviate the winter blues. Being among trees helps to reduce stress, improves mood, and reduces the possibility of poor mental health.
Research has found that almost one in three people in the UK suffer from seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that usually occurs during the winter months and can leave people with a persistent low mood.
Anxiety and depression cost the UK economy an estimated £70–£100 million a year, while studies have shown that spending as little as two hours a week in nature is an effective evidence-based strategy for maintaining good mental health.