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Park Fit

by Hazel Sillver

6 ways to get fit in the park this summer and help the environment at the same time....

Research by The University of Essex shows that exercising amid greenery dramatically boosts mood and confidence. So get out of that leisure centre and head to your local park to get fit this summer. If you fancy something a little more interesting and sociable than jogging, here are some suggestions: 

ROLLERSKATE

Gliding along on rollerblades is great fun and boosts balance, coordination, flexibility and fitness.

Where can I try it? One of the UK’s top skaters, Asha Kirkby, offers lessons in Brighton and London (at Hyde Park and Victoria Park) via her roller school, Skatefresh. She offers fun and friendly group lessons or private one-to-one sessions, for all levels: skatefresh.com

How can I learn on my own? If you don’t have any skate teachers in your local park, fret not! Try Asha Kirkby’s brilliant new skate lesson apps for mobile phones (suitable for Android and iPhones). Steps for beginner, intermediate and advanced skaters are broken down into easy steps. It’s akin to having a teacher in your pocket: skatefresh.com/apps

Recommended eco-kit: K2 manufacture good-looking eco rollerskates, as well as eco knee and wrist guards. They are available from various suppliers, including Loco Skates in Eastbourne, who sell eco-skates for guys and girls, via mail order all over the UK.

PARKRUN

If you want to make your weekend jog around the park more sociable and competitive, join Parkrun. This national event is composed of numerous local weekly park runs, after which the top finishing times are graded on the Parkrun website.

What does it involve? Each week you do a 5K, against runners of all ages and abilities. Your time and finishing place are logged, so that you can work on improving them each week. 

Where can I try it? Most UK towns and cities now hold a weekly Parkrun - go to parkrun.org.uk to find your nearest. Some of the largest Parkruns include Bushy Park in London, Heaton Park in Manchester and Preston Park in Brighton.

Where can I improve my technique: Running guru Jae Gruenke is holding a workshop in natural running technique in King Edward Memorial Park in Wapping, London on 8 June. Contact Jill to book a place.

Recommended eco-kit: The Green Silence running shoe by Brooks is made of 75% recycled material and non-toxic dyes and has a biodegradable midsole and insole.   

ULTIMATE FRISBEE

One of the fastest growing park sports, Ultimate Frisbee (or just ‘Ultimate’ for short) involves playing frisbee in two teams.

What does it involve? Each team aims, a little like American Football, to get the frisbee into their own ‘end zone’. The disc cannot be passed while a player is in motion, although you are allowed to pivot on one foot. All in all, it’s great for mental focus, agility and aerobic fitness. Find out more about UK Ultimate at ukultimate.com

Where can I try it? Most UK city (and some town) parks have an ultimate frisbee scene. Beginners are welcome at the Birmingham Ultimate training session on Thursday evenings in Selly Park and the ABH Ultimate Pickup on Sunday afternoons in Hyde Park.

Recommended eco-kit: Go for a disc made from recycled material, such as the Wham-O Reflyer Frisbee, made from recycled plastic (available from firetoys.co.uk). 

T’AI CHI

The gentle, smooth movements of t’ai chi are designed to still the mind and improve the flow of life energy (‘chi’) through the body.

What does it involve? Practitioners traditionally practice first thing in the morning (the time chi is at its highest level). You stand with knees bent (which is tiring at first, but gradually strengthens your legs) and move your torso and arms in a series of fluid shapes. All the poses have names (such as Dove Spreads Wings and Scooping the Sea) and stances, but each is meant to flow seamlessly into the next.

What are the benefits? T’ai chi is a form of moving meditation, so it is deeply relaxing for the mind. Studies show that practicing t’ai chi regularly slows aging, improves flexibility and boosts immunity.

Where can I try it: T'ai Chi Life hold a free session in ‘pushing hands’ (a t’ai chi practice performed with a partner) every Saturday morning in Regent’s Park, London and Sussex T’ai Chi hold a general t’ai chi class for all levels in Bishop’s Palace Gardens park in Chichester on Saturday mornings.

WILD GYM

Who needs lifeless air-conditioned gyms when you could work out in nature? Wild Gym practitioners do resistance work against trees and park benches and lift or throw logs and stones.

What does it involve? A typical Wild Gym workout in a park might involve doing arm pull-ups on a low tree branch, playing a game of tag, doing sit-ups and running up steps.

Where can I try it? Wild Fitness coach Paul Ranson runs training sessions at Hampstead Heath in London, involving running, jumping, lifting, throwing and swinging from trees. You can book a private or group session or turn up for one of his tribal workouts on Saturday mornings (see his Urban Wild Facebook page for further details or call him on 07947277229). In south London, Wild Forest Gym will teach you to crawl under fallen trees, balance atop them and run barefoot at Stave Hill Ecological Park and Russia Dock Woodland.   

HULA HOOP

No, you don’t need to be twelve years old to hula... Wiggle those hips and discover muscles you never knew you had!

What does it involve: You will initially learn to hula continuously with one hoop around your waist. Once you’ve got the hang of that, you can learn to travel the hoop up and down your body and to hula with more than one hoop – the World Record (set by Paul “Dizzy Hips” Blair in 2009) is spinning 132 at once.

What are the benefits: 30 minutes of light hula-ing will burn 200 calories and if you up the intensity of your whirling, it becomes seriously aerobic. It will also strengthen core muscles and improve coordination and flexibility. But most importantly, it feels great!

Where can I try it? Jill Everett teaches Hula Hoop Dance every Thursday evening in King Edward Memorial Park in Wapping, London.

Recommended eco-kit: The new EcoHoop from Hoop Revolution is made from 100% recycled plastic and comes in two sizes. At the moment it is only available via shipping from the U.S. for £16.48, but Hoop Revolution are currently looking for UK distributors.


Hazel Sillver is a freelance journalist and a contributor to the Ecologist Green Living section; email: hazel@theecologist.org

Image courtesy of www.shutterstock.com

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