in my experience we are taught in mainstream culture that getting fit and healthy is hard work and very much the opposite of play. Thankfully I have had different teachers who gave me different lessons and so I grew up playing, relaxing while getting fit and healthy all at the same time. I want to teach others what I have had the fortune to learn so that they can mix fun with fitness just like I do.
This is the story of how I combined getting fit and healthy while having a fantastic time on holiday in Weymouth in 2015. It is still one of the best set of memories I made that year or any year but also one of the most active, playful and fun.
The image on the right shows the Fitbit statistics I accumulated over the course of the day to show that all the fun I had also contributed a lot to developing my overall health.
Day one saw me notch up over; 3,400 calories, 110 active minutes, 25 floors and 8 miles. I don’t know about you but if that were a workout it would be a pretty good one and the truth is that I was not thinking about a work out at all. I was just meandering around a new place discovering sights and sounds I might want to share with my family.
Not every day is this active I was just excited to really enjoy my first day and was also walking off the frustration of being couped up in a car for hours driving.
These are the kind of statistics you aim for in a visit to the gym and not the first day of a relaxing holiday though these numbers do clearly express the value of what I call “Urban hiking” which just means wandering around urban places like your own neighbourhood and also sight seeing when you are some where new.
What I have not seen is much information about the health value of normal everyday things like exploring local areas and days out. A holiday is often a series of days out punctuated with days exploring the local area and just relaxing enjoying the sights and sounds of where you are. We all hear that this is good for us but we do not really see much data on this in our daily lives and we certainly do not see these days as an opportunity for growth.
This holiday was my chance to put into practice all the learning and new habits I had been developing over the year and apply to them to a week long holiday. The first day shows that despite hours in the car doing nothing but sitting I can still notch up a serious workout because I was excited to explore my new home.
The first day
The pictures of things we saw, did and enjoyed act as a simple guide to how much good recovery, eating and movement you can get on holiday. Alongside I have described some of the things we do as a family to get the best out of the day.
There are two parts to this article,
- Part 1 covers the morning journey to Weymouth and afternoon first experiences of Weymouth with the family.
- Part 2 covers the evening where I left the family in the holiday camp to sleep and rest while I got to explore more of Weymouth.
Part 1: The morning and afternoon
The journey there: Managing energy
It was about a 2.5-3.5 hour journey to Weymouth so we let our little one sleep a lot of the way there so he had plenty of energy when he arrived. Travelling with kids is often a challenge because you cannot just focus on yourself you have to plan and prepare for their needs too. So travelling with the family is generally more effort than travelling alone or with adults who can take care of themselves.
The tactic we use is to pace ourselves according to our energy levels so that we all have a good time and the key to that as a parent is managing the energy levels of your child. Mummy and I discussed beforehand and agreed that we wanted our little one to save his energy during the journey as much as possible so he was not worn out when we arrived. That would make for a better second half of the day so we could go out and explore.
Parenting is non-stop so our approach is not something we figured out on this trip, it is something we have learnt over time from days out and just general life during the week. So while going on holiday can feel like a separate challenge to those you face in your everyday life it rarely is. Some parts of a holiday certainly can be, for example, if you are flying to your destination because few people fly every day but, in reality, a 3-hour trip is quite a normal thing when you consider going for days out and visiting friends and family throughout the year.
My point here is that it helps to recognise that something like a holiday that you do only once or twice a year is made up of lots of activities that you do quite regularly. Therefore over the course of the year you can practice making those activities easier and applying this experience to your holiday so that you have a better holiday due to the experience gained throughout the year. Which means in the end all the frustration that comes with learning while earning becomes worth it.
Restoring our energy: Let’s explore!!!
After the long journey stuck in a car and the packing and unpacking of our stuff we had a few hours before our little one needed to be in bed so while I wanted to hang about to unwind I also wanted to start our holiday and get out exploring the area.
Experience has taught me that the best thing to do after a long drive is get moving because you often have more energy than you realise and getting out moving gets your blood flowing and restores your energy. It is counterintuitive because you would think that tiredness would mean you are tired but the truth is that how you feel is so often not how you are it is just your perception.
Over the years I have come to look on this part of the holiday as merely a long commute. If you think about it most of us drive to work for half an hour or more each way then fit a full day of work in the middle and over time we just get used to it. Today’s journey is just a more extended version and we do variations of this throughout the year.
On our daily commute, few of us take along so much luggage as we do on holiday but throughout the year most of us transport things from one place to another. When you buy furniture for example you might have to manage the delivery which can involve a long drive along with the challenges of packing and unpacking the items into the car and even assembling and disassembling what you have transported at either end.
The more I have thought about the travel aspects of a holiday the more I have seen parallels in our every day lives which makes it something we can train for and gain experience in over the year to make it easier and easier each time. Even pleasurable if that is possible.
With this in mind I used to give in to the feeling of tiredness after a long day at work or a long commute but years ago I discovered that if I just got up and went out, even for five minutes, I would quickly feel more refreshed and want to go do something. Once I learnt this I realised how much I missed out on over the years because no one had told me how to get my energy back.
So while Mummy unpacked I took little one off to explore for an hour before we found somewhere for dinner. Luckily enough for us, we did not have to go very far to find something to enjoy. After a little exploring, we found a small beach 5 minutes away where we could unwind and get in the holiday spirit.
Time to relax
As a parent a trick I have learnt is to let the situation do much of the work for you is that finding a spot for my kids to play takes the pressure off me to entertain them. After a long morning, this is exactly what I needed because I needed to relax and unwind with gentle movements while our little one was raring to go and needed to let out all his energy after being couped up all morning and having a long sleep.
It is easy to think that standing or sitting and enjoying the view means you are doing nothing until you learn that your body is never really still. At all times a human being is actively working and adapting to the situation with the difference being what is being asked of you at that time. For me and for my boy the demands on us have been different and I used this time to let our bodies recover their balance a little by applying a little of the homeostatic magic our bodies rely on.
Restore my body
For me, I had spent the morning focused on driving, plans and packing so my brain had been active and focused. While my body had done some little activities while loading and unloading the car it had generally been stuck in a driving position which is not good for it for any length of time. So while I enjoyed the view my body was taking advantage of being stretched out allowing blood and nutrients to flow more freely and the period beforehand of exploration encouraged energy to flow around my body again. The body has so many thousands of chemical reactions being performed in all its cells that regular gentle movement is imperative to keep these reactions stocked up with the necessary nutrients so they can work optimally. A gentle stroll after a long drive is a great way to help start the recovery process.
Restore my mind
At the same time, this relaxation time allows my mind to adjust its efforts. For the morning much of the blood will have been required in various parts of my brain that are used during the commute to focus on the road and plan the journey and so on because those parts of the brain are the most active they will require the most blood and will not get a rest. When the requirements change the parts of the brain in use will change allowing the tired parts of the brain to rest and recover their balance while other parts take on the load.
When the demands on the brain change you then find that the balance in the brain changes accordingly. Those areas that were in use will have become tired due to prolonged activity and are likely to be depleted of nutrients along with a high level of waste products. So the areas of my brain that I have been using in the morning for packing and driving will be tired and now they can spend some time recovering and replenishing their stores.
On the other hand, other areas of the brain which were underused and well-recovered have now become the centre of attention and use. So they are increasing the rate of energy and nutrient use and beginning to accumulate waste products while being supported by increased blood and energy supply. That means the areas involved with keeping an eye on the little one and learning our new environment will now be getting used.
A change is as good as a restAnon
This connection with how the brain is used and its potential for recovery from use is something I discovered after many years. Unfortunately, this pattern of use in the brain is not common knowledge and not openly taught so I simply stumbled across the explanation in a study I reviewed. This explanation connected with me and it changed the way I thought about how I use and support my brain and my mind and I set about putting the newfound knowledge to use.
Once I gained practical experience in applying this knowledge to my daily life I have learnt repeatedly that finding activities to restore my brain so that my mind can recover are as beneficial, if not more so, than finding activities that restore my body. With this discovery, I learnt the truth behind the common saying that “a change is as good as a rest”
We found something!!!
It was not long at all until we discovered something very special in the water and we made our way carefully over the rocks to get a better look.
At the same time that I am recovering while enjoying the scenery my little one is exploring his new surroundings because he has not been working hard like Daddy has. Little one has either been sleeping or bored so his body is well recovered and ready for use and he throws himself into every activity will the enthusiasm of a three-year-old.
Adults like us gain as much from this play as children do it is just a shame that adults do not play as much as they used to when they were children because the benefits are enormous and increasingly well-documented.
As you can see in the picture I can easily clamber over the rocks but my son being so much smaller and weaker has to work much harder. The reality though is that he gains much more from this than I do as a result because each movement he makes engages more of his body and mind than it does for me.
Climbing over rocks is nothing like movement in the modern world. It is obvious when you think about it but we are all very well adapted to the ease of the modern world yet it leaves us relatively weak when we want to go beyond the flat consistent planes of urban paths to the higgledy piggledy layout of nature.
Rocks on a beach are a fantastic playground for a family because they require different movement patterns than normal urban life. To traverse rocks we recruit our movement pathways differently, as our nerves fire our muscles to pull on our ligaments to move our bones. In this way, a day at the beach provides challenges we used to face all the time and were well adapted to that we no longer face. The value these challenges provide is also in the recovery demands they create.
Modern urban life challenges our minds far more than it challenges our bodies which is new to us as humans. For most of our history, we have had to adapt to wild rugged terrains and required the ability to traverse them on a regular basis. The difference between natural and modern landscapes is mainly variety in that natural landscapes provide a wide variety of movement surfaces and environments but modern urban design follows standard patterns that are pretty consistent across the world. Providing consistency has reduced variety and the shapes and movement patterns required of our bodies is now so much less than it used to be.
With reduced variety comes over-use of joints and movement patterns which leads to overuse injuries. So I use nature and exploring wild landscapes to provide the variety of movement that my body is designed for. As a lifelong urbanite, I do not find this easy, over time I have come to recognise the value of variety as I have learnt more and more about the effects of modernity on human health.
Variety is consistently reported as the most important factor in all ranges of human requirements from nutrition to movement to mental stimulation. So over the years, my focus has been on increasing the variety in my life and making the effort to value situations because they are different, even challenging to what I am normally used to.
So while scrambling over rocks to check out sea life is a perfectly natural thing to do few of us realise that it is something we rarely do and that in itself is good for us and adds to the variety and excitement of life.
So what did we spot?
Well by chance we had turned up just at the time thousands of Jellyfish floated up on Weymouths beaches and they were massive!!!
We both climbed over the rocks to get the best view we could. At the time we did not know that we would find them all over Weymouth so we were really excited to get so close and observe.
Most things you see in the sea move quickly and anything big moves out of view fast so it was amazing to see something just stay there so we could get a good view of it.
So in the end after the the long drive, our first experience of Weymouth allowed us to see the sea as a playground and the rocks as equipment. I had to teach the little one about safety at the beach as any parent has to but it has a lot in common with the many experiences on playgrounds over the years just that it’s a natural playground not man-made.
So this is the story of the morning and afternoon of the first day and our first experience in Weymouth. The way we had been living in the months beforehand had prepared us for the challenges of the morning and put us in a good position to start the holiday in a happy place.
These are the pictures of the morning.
Part 2: The evening
Little one is in bed, time for Daddy to explore.
As this was our first day in Weymouth we spent the afternoon as a family exploring a little of Weymouth. As is normal with a young family the little one needs his bed by the evening so while Mummy enjoyed a quiet time watching TV while baby sitting I took the opportunity to explore the places I could not reach with a family in tow.
I do this on all holidays as it is a chance to go places that suit me and also to check out places I might want to bring the family on another day. I walk a lot at home and find it a really good way of exploring an area to get a feel of it and find unique areas that are not in the guides. It is much harder to do with a family in tow because they just do not have the stamina.
I am tired from the day but at the same time we are on holiday and I have been looking forward to visiting Weymouth for months. I have heard so many good things about it so I am really excited to see what it has to offer. I have also spent a large part of the day sitting down in the car so while I feel tired it’s more mental tiredness than physical so I channel the excitement and adrenaline into planning an evening walk to explore more of Weymouth and see what i can find.
I took a look at the local maps and of course google and saw a nice coastal walk that ends near Weymouth centre. The walk is about 1 hour in total and I saw some interesting places on the route so I pick myself up and head out.
Just 10 minutes into the walk I get my first reward. You can never really capture the view on a camera but this scene on the left with a little flower in the corner, Portland in the background and the bay in the middle was just a treat to walk alongside.
The evening was warm and still so the gentle sea air was lovely and I was really glad I had made the effort to get out. As is so often the case, now that I had got out and was enjoying myself my mood had changed and I did not want the walk to end because I was looking forward to what i would find.
A little further on I came across an epic find of Sandsfoot castle, which is a beautiful ruin built by Henry the VIII and finished around 1536. When I wandered by in the evening the castle was empty except for a few passersby so I had the joy of exploring it at my leisure relatively uninterrupted.
The beauty of a relic like this is that it gives you a different way to experience an area and a view. A beach is wonderful to wander along and this castle, set high up and acting like a cliff or rocky outcrop gives me a perfect opportunity to look sideways across the shore line to features much further away and even back to land and enjoy the view of Weymouth itself.
The picture on the left captures the magical nature of the views. The vivid colours I could see all around showed the wildlife in full bloom and it was a pleasure simply to gaze out and drink in the view with my eyes.
The day was very warm and the evening air had become quite stagnant so the feeling of the cool sea breeze was lovely as it took some of the heat away.
I carried on along the coastal path a few hundred metres and considered where next?
I was considering whether I should try and reach the fort I could see in the distance but I had not intended to go so far this evening because I was tired and wanted a gentle stroll. So I checked google maps and to my surprise I found the perfect route home that would mean I do a loop and keep seeing new parts of Weymouth instead of retracing my steps. I like to do this when exploring so I cover my area and get more opportunities to find something I like.
So I spent a little while enjoying the view out to Nothe fort, wondering if I would make it there and what it would be like before setting off again to find this new route.
The Rodwell trail railway walk
What I had noticed was a leafy walk named The Rodwell trail that led right back to our holiday site. It was a short walk from the coastal path and gave me a completely different view of Weymouth. Changing from wide coastal views to thick trees either side with a view north or south but little either side.
I was wondering whether I wanted to continue because I enjoy lots of trails like these at home all the time but being on holiday I wanted something different so I was considering changing course and going back to the coastal path or something else.
Then something caught my eye and convinced me this was the path I needed to follow. I saw the sign below and it reminded me of the type of sign you often get in Milton Keynes giving you the history of the area you are in and telling you what you are looking at.
When I looked closer at the sign I found out I was doing something quite special to me. We have an old railway in Milton Keynes that was converted to a railway walk that I use all the time because it has beautiful views.
It turns out that Weymouth has a railway walk too and I was walking all along it. The views are also amazing and, just like at home, every so often you walk past a platform that passengers used to wait at which reminds you that a steam train used to tootle past your feet every day. It’s a surreal experience.
I had been feeling a bit of deja vu on this trail and now I had learned why. It turns out that I was on Weymouth railway walk and I was excited for another reason.
My Grandma came from Weymouth so the whole trip has been in my head as one to explore where she grew up and understand her childhood a little better.
So it was a really pleasant surprise that Weymouth connects me with my Grandma and with another railway walk which was built around the same time as ours in Milton Keynes.
Go play 🙂
So there you have it. The start of our holiday and I’ve moved, played and enjoyed every minute while at the same time I have invested heavily in my health. We’re all tired and can’t wait for tomorrow, we are going to Durdle door!!! and in the evening I will be exploring Portland.