The City is great. I’ve owned a gym here for almost 10 years. It can be invigorating being around so many people, seeing all the new buildings fly up, checking out all the new bars and restaurants.
But there’s a flip-side. Being around so many people can be mentally and physically draining. An office full of stressed people can take its toll on your mental health. Sometimes you need to get away.
The idea of having a nice weekend out of the city is hardly something new – the Victorians loved to take trips to the country. But in our ever-connected age, I think it’s more important than ever to escape the traffic and noise from time to time.
I was in San Francisco recently and I decided to take a solo camping trip to Yosemite National Park. It amazed me the realisations I came to when I was out in nature by myself. Being alone in a sleeping bag in the middle of a forest really strips life back to the bare essentials. When the sun goes down, it’s time for bed, when it comes up, it’s time to get up again. I immediately felt energised, falling into a natural circadian rhythm, a far cry from the late nights and bleary mornings of my life back home.
I’m not quite at the tree hugging stage yet, but being alone in nature certainly affected my mood, not just while I was away, but for weeks after. It helps, of course, that Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but it wasn’t just the views. Over the days I came to a number of realisations – here are some of them.
The importance of being present
I talk about this a lot, but when you’re alone and disconnected from the “real” world, you become more present. This is especially true when you’re hiking: you can’t be anywhere else if you want to get home in one piece. You pay attention to every step, feel every breath.
You’re communicating with your body in a far more direct way than usual. All of my clients in the City worry about things that have already happened and beat themselves up over stuff they can’t change. At the same time, they become overwhelmed by things that haven’t happened yet, playing out distracting and stressful scenarios. When you’re alone with your thoughts, this fades away.
A clear head can mean more ideas, not fewer
So all those unnecessary thoughts have vanished – but that doesn’t mean your mind becomes a void. It was incredible how many great ideas I had, how many solutions I found to problems that had been bugging me for ages. I made a list of things I wanted to work on when I got home and I’ve stuck to it. If you let your brain rest and disconnect, it can concentrate on bigger problems than the latest thing on your Twitter feed.
You don’t need to go to Yosemite for this – I find the same thing happens when I go on long cycles outside of London.
Finally get that digital detox
Where there’s no reception there’s no temptation. How long can you go before checking your phone? Our entire lives revolve around screens and we feel useless without them.
But without a phone in your hand, you can appreciate what’s in front of you. Being out of signal made me realise that I don’t have to be available 24/7. It’s OK to take your time getting back to someone: it allows you to consider who’s really important and what you actually want to say. We live on impulse and it’s a cause of anxiety – take a breath, the world won’t end if you don’t text your sister back right away.
Exercise with a view
Many people use the excuse of hating the gym for not training, but there’s so much you can do outdoors that counts as exercise, and it’s a great way to improve your health and wellbeing. When I was hiking I burnt over 3,500 calories a day and completed more than 25,000 steps. By the end I was shattered. I slept like a baby.
Don’t underestimate the power of going for a walk – get yourself down to your local park, and if you have children, take them with you. And remember, parks aren’t just good for walking – try cycling, running, rock climbing, swimming, even frisbee.
Mixing up your exercise routine is a great way to challenge different muscle groups. Or if you’ve had a heavy week in the gym, changing things up with an outdoor workout could count towards your recovery.
At No1 Fitness our aim is to help people to get healthier. We design workouts and programs for people to complete in the gym, but we also make sure we get our clients outside, too. Try it yourself this weekend.
• To book a session with one of the trainers at No1 Fitness, visit no1fitness.co.uk or call 0207 403 6660