As summer rolls in and the days heat up, many of us want to spend more time outdoors. Although lockdown rules have been relaxed, things aren’t quite back to ‘normal’ just yet – and with social distancing still in place, traditional summer pastimes like heading to crowded beaches or dining with friends aren’t recommended. However, there are still plenty of safe and fun activities you can do outdoors this summer.
Whether you’re looking to get stuck into some energetic exercise, or simply want to catch-up with friends while getting some vitamin D, here are 10 activities that you can do outdoors.
1. Mindfulness walk
Many of us have gone for more walks during lockdown than at any other point in our lives – and you might feel you’ve walked around your neighbourhood so much you could do the route in your sleep! That maybe so – but going for a mindfulness walk is a very different experience. A mindful walk is a great way to restore your sense of clarity and focus. It can also help boost your mood, alleviate stress and anxiety, and clear your mind of clutter.
So what does a mindfulness walk actually entail? It’s all about noticing how your body feels as you stroll – paying attention to your sensory experiences, and bringing awareness back to your body and surroundings. As you walk, focus on how your legs, arms and feet feel as you move into your next stride. Think about your senses – what can you smell, hear, see and feel? – and notice any thoughts or feelings that arise.
A mindful walk can help you appreciate the small things we often overlook or take for granted – the feel of the sun on our face, for example, or the smell of freshly cut grass. If you’d like some guidance on your mindful walk, you can listen to a 10 minute walking meditation on the Mindful website, or download the walking meditation on the Headspace app (which you can enjoy using their free trial). There are many different ways to bring the body and mind together, and you might find that walking works well for you.
2. Go for a cycle
One of the best things about cycling is that it can be made as gentle or as intense as you like. You can spend the day cycling steep mountain terrain and pushing yourself to your limits, or you can simply enjoy a relaxed cycle as a way to unwind. Cycling is also an outdoors activity that’s as fun as it is beneficial. It works out all of the major muscle groups, can help build strength and stamina, improves joint mobility, and can even reduce anxiety and depression.
There are many different ways you can enjoy cycling. You could become a tourist in your own town, cycling along routes popular with tour groups and stopping to admire local landmarks along the way – or you could head out to the countryside for a day of cycling along winding country roads (just remember to pack plenty of water). You can even use cycling as a way to socialise if you choose to go for a socially-distanced cycle with a friend! If you haven’t cycled for a while and want to get into it, have a read of our beginner’s guide to cycling.
3. Go on a photowalk
If, like many people, you want to put your extra time to good use and improve your photography skills, then why not think about going for a photowalk? Combining walking with taking photos is a seriously effective way of promoting both physical and mental health, and finding creative inspiration while also doing some gentle exercise can be very satisfying. You may find that being exposed to changing scenery and surroundings boosts your sense of creativity, and experiencing different places through your viewfinder will help you hone your photography skills and pick up new ideas.
How you go about your photowalk is entirely up to you: you can pre-plan your route in advance, or let your feet and instinct roam free and go where your natural compass leads you. If you want to plan your route, you may want to consider using the AllTrails app. You simply enter the name of your city, local area or park, and it suggests beautiful trails you can follow, allowing you to explore the great outdoors with confidence.
On a sunny day, you might find the hours slip away from you as you stroll around, camera in hand. You can take photos of anything that inspires you: a bridge over a river, a flock of birds in the sky or a bright red phone box. At the end of your photowalk you’ll probably have a clearer mind and a brighter mood – and of course, you’ll have snapped some lovely mementos of your day, too.
4. Stand up paddleboarding
Stand up paddleboarding is one of the most popular aquatic activities around, and for good reason. It’s a low-impact sport that’s suitable for all ages and abilities, and from a health perspective alone, it’s an ideal activity as it improves balance, coordination and posture, reduces backaches, increases muscle and bone strength, and is also excellent for physical rehabilitation. It’s also an effective way to overcome stress and anxiety and help feel ‘present’ in beautiful, natural surroundings. You don’t need to be based near the coast to take advantage either – it can be enjoyed on rivers, lakes and canals. You can find out more about the various locations here.
It can take a short while to get the hang of, but despite the name, you don’t actually have to stand up to enjoy it; many people prefer to sit or kneel on the board, and slowly work their way up to standing, if they want. Paddlesport centres re-opened in May, so if you wish to take a (socially distanced) lesson, you can do so at many outdoor activity centres throughout the UK – you can find your nearest centre here. Alternatively, you can buy your own board on Amazon, or if you want to see whether paddleboarding is for you before making a commitment, you can even hire a board and have it delivered to your door!
5. Get into gardening
Interest in gardening bloomed during lockdown, with millions of people finding haven in their gardens or balconies. But gardening is something everyone can enjoy, whether you have your own outdoor space or not – all you need are some pots and a window sill. Growing your own plants doesn’t only improve your wellbeing and environment, it can also save you money on your food bill. Keeping your loved ones supplied with fresh fruit or vegetables is enormously gratifying, and as the days heat up, there’s never been a better time to start working outdoors.
If you’re lucky enough to have a garden you’ll be spoiled for choice of things you can grow, but with a bit of preparation, even the smallest spaces can be adapted to grow vegetables and fresh herbs. Check out Vertical Veg, a site that encourages people to grow their own produce in containers in small spaces – from raspberries and radishes to courgettes and tomatoes, plenty of plants can thrive in pots on a window ledge. If you do have a garden and aren’t sure what to do with it, you can check out some gardening ideas here – from beautiful yet low-maintenance flowers, right through to planting your own herb garden, there’s something for everyone. Plus, gardening counts as exercise, so you can soak up some sunshine, get some exercise, and enjoy the rewards of watching things grow all at the same time.
6. Build a birdhouse and get birdwatching
Birdwatching is a favourite pastime for many people, and it’s a wonderfully relaxing way to enjoy being outdoors. If you’d like to attract more wildlife to your garden (or balcony), why not consider making a birdhouse? According to the RSPB, there just aren’t enough natural holes and hideaways where wildlife can find shelter, and building your own birdhouse is a great way to help small birds like sparrows thrive. Plus, if you have grandchildren, feeding birds can be a fun way to enthuse them about wildlife.
Buying a birdhouse can be expensive, but making your own isn’t – and it’s an enjoyable and relaxing way to spend a sunny day. You don’t have to be good at DIY to make a birdhouse – and in fact, some birdhouses can be made without hammering a single nail. Have a look at some different types of birdhouse if you want some inspiration. There’s something for every ability – from simple birdhouses made from a hanging, dried gourd to bird ‘mansions’ that will be the talk of the street. Once you’ve made the birdhouse, you can then buy some bird seed and watch the birds come and go all year.
You may also want to download ChirpOMAtic – a great bird watching app that allows you to identify birds by their individual song for free. It’s available on both Android and iOS and very easy to use – you simply record the birdsong and it tells you which birds are singing in your garden! You can find out more about the types of birds to look out for here.
If you want to get out on the water but aren’t sure that standup paddleboarding is for you, you might want to consider going kayaking. Usually easier to master than paddleboarding, kayaking is great exercise and helps strengthen your upper body, legs and core. Paddling gently across a lake is also a fine way to enjoy some peace and quiet while soaking up some natural beauty. If you want some kayaking guidance you can take a lesson at your local kayaking centre – but if you’d prefer to kayak independently, you can simply hire kayaking equipment for a day or half-day. You will need a licence if you want to kayak on inland waterways like rivers and canals, although lakes are fine to kayak on freely.
You can treat kayaking as a relaxing pastime and just enjoy paddling under the sun – but equally, you can treat it as fitness and aim to get some vigorous paddling in. If you consider yourself a bit of a thrillseeker, you might want to look into trying white water kayaking, once you’ve got enough experience in! You can have a look at some of the best kayaking routes in the UK here.
8. Get artistic outside
Artistic pursuits like drawing and painting are enormously beneficial for the mind – so why not get creative while also getting some sunshine and fresh air? Many of the most famous artists in the world were inspired by nature, so you might want to consider emulating them and heading outside to see if inspiration strikes. If you have a garden you could sit down with a sketchbook and see what takes your fancy: from colourful flowers to cats lazing in the sun, there will probably be a wealth of attractive scenes to draw. You can find out more about how to get started drawing here.
If you don’t have an outdoor space, you might want to head to your local park or city square on a sunny day – and if drawing doesn’t excite you, perhaps you’ll be more enthused about painting. Many of us haven’t painted since childhood, and getting back into this creative pastime can be extremely enjoyable, as well as meditative. Painting outside is known as en plein air, and it’s a great way to get in touch with your creative vision and truly immerse yourself in your subject. Just pack a travel easel and some portable paints – or go even simpler, and just bring a sketchpad, some pastel crayons and your sense of creativity.
9. Go camping
Escaping to the country is a great way to put negative news stories out of your mind – and with government guidelines currently suggesting that UK campsites will reopen on July 4th, you might be able to blow those lockdown cobwebs away earlier than you think. Getting back to nature with members of your household, or support bubble, is a chance to appreciate some of the simple things in life – the warmth of a campfire, a cold drink in the sun, the smell of grilled food. If you’re not up for a ‘big trip’, you could always head to your local campsite for just a night (or even get camping in your garden!). It could do you the world of good.
There are camping options for every personality and budget. You can ‘rough it’ in a simple tent under the stars, go glamping in a yurt, or even stay in a motorhome (which might be a good choice, considering not all campsites will be opening their showers facilities when they reopen in July). Have a look at UK campsites to find a safe space to enjoy the great outdoors for a night or two.
10. Go running
Running, like cycling, is an outdoor activity that can be tailored precisely to the individual. You can set yourself challenges and continually try to improve your distance and pace, or you can take it easy, going for slow, short, and gentle runs as a way to clear your mind. The health benefits of running are very powerful, but the psychological effects can be equally beneficial, and running has been shown to improve mood, reduce stress and help us relax and refocus. If you’re not a runner, you might want to take part in the NHS’s Couch to 5K programme, which was designed to help running rookies run a 5K after nine weeks.
If you’re quite not ready to start running yet, you can still benefit from going for brisk walks around your local area – and if you like, you could meet a friend in the park and go for a socially distanced walk or run together. Alternatively, if you’re not running anywhere near a road, you might like to listen to music or a podcast as you walk or run, and see the activity as a chance to enjoy some ‘me time’. It might help to download apps like Strava that use GPS to track things like running time and distance, as well as calories burned. This can be a good way to keep on top of your progress and boost motivation as you see how you improve from week to week. You can find out more about the benefits of running and how to get started in our beginner’s guide to running.