Skip The Gym, Head For The Forest

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Aside from when it’s really dark and spooky, the forest is a great place to be. There’s even a concept known as shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing”, which suggests that being under the leafy canopy of a woodland acts as a kind of preventative healthcare. And if you’re not convinced that simply being in a forest is doing you good, then they’re also terrific places to exercise, which is 100% confirmed as being good for your health.

Running, walking and cycling are all textbook ways to be active in forests, but the Active Forests project created by Forestry Commission England and Sport England plans on making more sports available to play in woods by adding facilities like table tennis tables, volleyball courts and football pitches.

A three-year pilot programme for the Active Forest project saw an increase of 246% in sporting visits to the sites with new facilities, with 700,097 visits in total over the period. Some people the project quizzed were particularly enamoured of the idea they could exercise in a natural environment, with 85% claiming that as the main motivation to get involved in activities.

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“Being in the forest adds to the enjoyment – it would be boring otherwise, but this is lovely,” said one. “You are more observant of what is around you, and you look and listen for things… you can hear the birds, and notice the changes in the seasons.”

The project is set to be developed and extended to more sites over the next five years, with funding coming from the National Lottery.

If you think that you don’t live near a forest, you are almost certainly wrong. In fact 99.9% of England’s population live within an hour’s drive of a forest managed by Forestry Commission England, and 85% within half an hour. If you’re part of the 0.1%, we don’t know what to tell you. Maybe move – no-one should be that far away from such fantastic venues.

You can find out more info on sites where Active Forest has already installed sporting facilities, and scout out your local Forestry Commission forest on the Forestry Commission’s website.

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.