Getting Outside More

This post forms part 2 of my #GetOutside blog posts for early 2018. If you haven’t read the first one, you can do so using the link here.

If you’ve already read part 1 of this article, you’ll know that Ordnance Survey are continuing their GetOutside programme which has the simple overriding aim of increasing public participation in the outdoors. This is facilitated via increasing awareness of the tools already in existence, such as the country network of footpaths and bridleways, often starting only metres from home, and also education of the public, such as how to use a map to take you from local paths to mountain routes. The GetOutside ambassador scheme which I’m fortunate enough to be a part of is one way of disseminating this information and helping OS achieve it’s participation goals.

As previously discussed, the main group targeted by OS, and many other government backed organisations is the sedentary group. With over 20 million members across the UK at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, amongst many other ailments, this group of chronic inactivity is not a group you want to be active in…

So why does a physically inactive person remain that way? Of course, some prefer a sedentary lifestyle, but the data shows that most inactive individuals wish they were able to increase their activity levels, and crucially maintain that level throughout their life. Here are the five factors of chronic inactivity:

  1. Lack of knowledge about where, how and why to get outside.
  2. Sedentary individuals are unmotivated by tales of grandeur. Climbing Everest, rightly, has no appeal to most people.
  3. Partly the fault of tales of grandeur, sedentary individuals set big, unattainable goals, leading to a continual spiral.
  4. You can have the lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of, you just need to quit your job and live in a rural chalet (aka. shed).
  5. Underpinning everything is the fun factor.

Lack of knowledge about where, how and why to get outside.

os150000One of the largest culprits for individuals not being active outside is simply not knowing how to. You, being a sporty outdoors kind of guy or gal can look out your door and fine a microadventure close to your house. You probably even know how to read a map such as the one above (although over 60% of the UK population are unable to read maps). You may think therefore that getting outside is a simple case of finding the right map, locating your position, and then sticking to the nearest footpath. You probably then also take these skills for granted. How so? Well, because to the majority of the population, the image above is scary. It turns what they can see with their own eyes into a series of concentric rings, red blue and yellow lines, and the occasional funny symbol which seems to indicate the sale of half caravan-half teepee (or CarPee for short) somewhere over the white land. To you however, the above is a method of getting away from it all, because you know if you scramble up to 433198, you’ll probably get a good view of Ullswater on that rare occasion where the cloud is above 400m. To indicate my point, have a look at the chart below, and see if you can navigate around.

SkyVector__Flight_Planning___Aeronautical_Charts-4There really isn’t too much difference from the OS map. This chart still shows a plan view of the world, yet unless you’re a pilot, you will almost certainly lack the skills to make full use of this data.

So whilst you’re frustrated about the lack of ability in identifying the B class airspace above Los Angles, spare a thought for the UK’s 60% who are still struggling with the simple version.

The next point is why. Why bother getting outside? Do you even need to go outside? Probably not is the answer if you’re talking purely physiologically, however for maintenance of good mental health, getting outside is a key aspect. For most of us, 90% of time is spent indoors, maybe even more if your only time outside is from the house to the car, and from the car into the front door at work. We spend our days confined in boxes which whilst entirely survivable, is often not the most enjoyable way to spend time. The people discussed here are sedentary, and so are unlikely to stick to a rigorous gym programme which is often so demoralising. The key for this group is simply to walk outside, getting your foot on the first rung of the exercise ladder, often scary, but always a worthwhile prospect for those previously confined to the bed-sofa-office chair-sofa-bed.

Sedentary individuals are unmotivated by tales of grandeur. Climbing Everest, rightly, has no appeal to most people.

Climbing Everest is a (really) big walk. It’s huge. It’s not often you go for a walking holiday for 10 weeks and gain almost 15,000m vertical height (in terms of cumulative total). But after all that, Everest is still just a walk. If you’ve climbed it twice, three times, ten times, you’ve enjoyed the big walk, just multiple times. Your climb of Everest (or any other mountain) actually only matters to you. No one else cares, or should care, UNLESS it inspires them to take their own challenge. In simple terms, the sedentary population by and large don’t care about the next big feat on Everest, because it is both meaningless to them, and instead of being inspiring, is oftentimes demoralising. Trying to pluck up the courage just to take one piece of exercise a week and avoid getting lost or feeling insecure outside is not going to be assisted by the knowledge that some young kid has just soloed up the Lhotse Face. For the sedentary person, this is not something they will ever consider in their grasp, it’s just too far from what they’re currently trying to do. Sure, one day that 0.01% will achieve the extraordinary, but the key with GetOutside is to help sedentary and low activity individuals achieve the ordinary – and then to define ordinary as meeting the minimum guidelines for activity, and also feeling confident to venture outside.

So the message here: definitely share tales of grandeur, it’s cool, and you will inspire people. But to inspire the inactive, you have to share grass routes experiences for inspiration, not a slideshow of the latest and greatest on the Nordwand.

Partly the fault of tales of grandeur, sedentary individuals set big, unattainable goals, leading to a continual spiral.

You know the drill, you set yourself a big challenge for New Year, perhaps 100 push-ups every day for 30 days because you saw that YouTube video. You said, how hard can that be? So you get to work, but then suddenly realise that you can’t do more than two pushups on the first day, the second is the same story, and by the third, your shoulders hurt so much that you quit. Judging by my demographics, most of the people reading this blog could tackle the push-up challenge. But for the sedentary population, even one push-up is a big goal. Here’s the spiral: you’re inactive, you set yourself a target of 1,000 steps, you can only manage 200. You give up after day 3, just like the push-up challenge, but this time when you quit, you feel depressed at the inability to do something most people take for granted. You become less healthy by not meeting your target of even a small amount of exercise, and sadly, the spiral continues downward.

There’s not much that an outsider can do here unless they’re the one prescribing the treatment. What can be learned however is the message that setting goals too big is not just a recipe for acute failure, but a potential cause of something much worse. Missed goals are a leading cause of spiralling, the concept where your performance keeps dropping simply because you keep missing unrealistic goals. If your goal was a 100mph tennis serve, a missed goal may be mildly distressing, but to miss the goal of 10 minutes of exercise each week is potentially catastrophic to a sedentary individual.

The SMART adage of Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely is always one to bear in mind; even if you were taught it in year 7 at school, it’s definitely a school lesson with real world applications; (think subprime lenders and less than achievable loan repayments, circa 2008…).

You can have the lifestyle you’ve always dreamed of, you just need to quit your job and live in a rural chalet (aka. shed).

My favourite piece of encouragement delivered my many super duper motivational speakers. How many times have you heard a speaker advising that a 9-5 is overrated, and subsequently recommending that you should pack it all in now whilst you still have the energy, and take up a life of glorious self-brand promotion on social media so you can spend half your time living in a London pad whilst spending the other half being whisked away to the alps to capture some groundbreaking footage on the newest unbreakable, unsinkable (we’ve heard that one before…), unstoppable action gizmo? I take the view that this really isn’t needed. There are a few problems with not working whilst in the 20-60 age group, not least because while you’re not at work, the rest of the world in your time zone almost certainly is. And equally, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a weekend warrior either. As Mallory once famously quoted, you don’t live to go to work, you do exactly the opposite (going to work because it’s there..).

MatthewDThornton Tent

A Kenyan marathon runner has a strange training regime, they do 4 hours vertical (running), and 20 hours horizontal (resting) every day. That’s what it takes to be an Olympic champion, but if you finish work at 5, you can easily get a couple of hours exercise done in the evenings, and even some on the commute into work. The point is, if you’re economical with time, there’s usually ample opportunity to keep fit, whilst also earning money, spending time during the day with (hopefully) nice people, and even some time in the evening to see the family. Again, this comes down to unattainable goals. For many, retiring at 35 to live in a bachelor pad will never be attainable, but for most of the rest, they wouldn’t really want that anyway. Work provides among other things friends and money, which are the two key ingredients missing from the wooded shack. At retirement, the instances of loneliness dramatically increase as many people go from 45 years of 9-5 usually with guaranteed coworkers to absolutely nothing and potentially no one. A recent report suggested that loneliness is actually more deadly than obesity. And despite the old adage that you can’t buy happiness, the wiser I get, the more I find this simply not true. Money creates opportunity, and with that happiness. Of course, there is much debate here, but in answer of the original question, it is generally accepted that the poor use of free time is what cripples sedentary individuals into chronic inactivity rather than their choice of honest profession.

Just to touch on that money part one last time, I’d like to take a quote from Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (an immensely thought provoking read), and suggest that it is actually the volume of money, not the money itself, which often instigates this bad reputation: “Beyond the satiation level of income, you can buy more pleasurable experiences, but you will lose some of your ability to enjoy the less expensive ones.”

Underpinning everything is the fun factor.

So what’s my take? If I had 50 cents, I would say plan for your happiness, which invariably means planning fun into your life. Do you need to plan fun? Of course! It’s useless going to the gym if you don’t take the time to plan how you’re going to come across all those gainz (physical adaptations of the muscular and cardiovascular system to a gradual increase in work intensity, to you and me). So when you reach the weekend, or the time you’re not spending at work, why would you not also take the time to plan how your time will be fun, enjoyable, or something you’d like to repeat again?

Focusing on the most vulnerable, sedentary group, it’s clear that to address the prior four points, the activity constituting exercise outside has to be enjoyable. The whole point of venturing outside, at the start at least, is to enjoy the experience, so it’s foolish to prescribe presently inactive individuals an outside activity which is anything less than judiciously satisfying. This group of individuals, all 20+ million of them, need to be shown that the outside is far more enjoyable than sitting at a computer all day and then watching TV in the evening. It’s a case of carefully constructing a goal which is obtainable with only a little effort, and then allowing that success to spiral (upward) into something bigger. The other point I want to make is that with a landscape such as the UK, whilst it is understandably very challenging for many to explore initially, there are so many sights, so many walks and so many rambles, that the sedentary population, including the 80% of UK children aged 11-15 who spend in excess of 4 hours looking at a screen per day, may actually be prised away, should the outdoor kingdom of the UK continue to be made more accessible to every generation.

I would like to end this post with a further quote from Thinking, Fast and Slow: “The easiest way to increase happiness is to control your use of time. [Simply] can you find more time to do the things you enjoy doing?”