This morning, I travelled back in time (several decades) to have a sea swim. As I don’t drive, this involves a 45 minute train ride to my favourite local beach but without my usual train and general life paraphernalia (bag, purse, phone (with camera and music), watch etc) so that’s what gives me a sense of time travel and freedom.
I took just one credit card and the key to the back door (easy to pop into my swimming cap just in case someone stole my clothing), potentially disposable reading (magazines), thermos of lemon and ginger tea (for the post-swim effort to get as dry as possible before the soggy journey home) and train ticket.
It’s a weird way to leave my comfort zone. Obviously not leaping out of aeroplanes or anything like that but there’s something both anxiety inducing and liberating about switching off completely for a few hours.
What if I missed out on fantabulous opportunities (or worse, some kind of crisis) because my phone was at home? What if I DID get swept away and there was no identification in my beach bag?
Even though I work many evenings and weekends, I felt like I was bunking off. Although I regularly spend hours travelling between appointments when I’m in London, there was just something about today’s travel, to Essex’s Sunshine Coast* that felt like the most self-indulgent thing I have done in nearly a year (when I last went for my last solo sea swim in September).
Arranging such things with friends gives it a dual purpose, catching up as well as saying Hello Sea!!! Travelling in the opposite direction to usual with the sole purpose of swimming felt like utter luxury. And yet I needed to be underwater in the sea so it had that air of necessity, too.
A recent study from Glasgow University found that outdoor exercise boosted mental wellbeing by 50%. Their focus was on green exercise (communing with the grass and trees) versus inside gyms. While my sea-swim was grey and brown (not the sunshiny day I’d expected but still blissful), it can’t compare with my usual pool swims – and with those I benefit from being able to see the greenery outside the pool through the windows. I adore my usual swims but there’s something magical about swimming outside.
As I got out of the water, more people were coming down to the beach but for most of my swim, each time a turned around (to check my bag was still there!), I saw barely another soul. The sea looked endless and felt limitless. The choppy-ness meant that even when I felt as if I’d swum the equivalent of a couple of underwater lengths, as I looked at my landmark, I’d barely moved. It was more challenging than my usual pool swims.
I cycle a lot (not as in long-distance, but running errands, cycling to the pool / yoga classes etc) and cannot imagine enduring a spin class (it always sounds like the instructors are yelling!) or stationary bike. Ditto walking versus a treadmill. I love doing some outdoor yoga (when I’m able to pretend to be invisible to neighbours who overlook the garden) and one of my loveliest yoga memories was on a rooftop in Goa, shaded by palm trees and watching the sun set.
When you think about your own exercise routines, can you make it greener? (Or browner? Bluer? Whatever colour nature provides such activities?).
I imagine a big part of the mental wellbeing boost comes from re-associating swimming / running / cycling / whatever with FUN. When kids play, the exercise is secondary to the enjoyment of moving.
Exercising outside, being in the sea or even cycling around town can trigger happy childhood memories as well as making it easier for us to produce mood boosting vitamin d than we can even dream of producing inside.
Experiment with it. Have fun!
*While I woke up to sunshine, by the time the train reached Colchester, the skies got grey and by the time I arrived at the sea, it was grey/brown against stormy looking grey skies. Am used to seeing li’l fish and seaweed but today, I could see nothing apart from swirling sand. Still, it was BLISSFUL.
Do you prefer doing your favourite types of exercise al fresco? What helps you make the extra effort and are the benefits noticeable?