Thrive don’t just survive. With the busy life styles many of us lead today we often find ourselves spending more time indoors than outside. After a day spent in the car, the office and infront of the computer/TV we’re often left feeling low and lacking energy despite having done nothing particularly physical.
Passionate stand up paddleboarder Sarah Leighton explains how fresh air and outdoor adventures can change your life, your physical health, mental health, and your overall wellbeing. And how SUP can make you feel truly alive…
Adventuring in the great outdoors isn’t just for kids, for explorers, or for athletes. It’s for everyone who wants to find their potential and be the best version of themselves.
I’ve met hundreds of people on outdoor adventures, from all walks of life, with a range of abilities, and all with different reasons for being there. But one common theme that connects them all is that being outdoors simply makes people feel better!
I’m currently on the countdown to what for me, is a big adventure. This summer I’m going to SUP, cycle, and hike across Wales. In addition to raising money for charities in Wales, I aim to spread the message that going outside is good for you, and that you can do it in so many ways because no two adventures are ever the same.
Our environment shapes us, and we can shape our environment…
If we are constantly exposed to stress, then we become chronically stressed. If we stop moving in a certain way, then we become less good at it. And if we are constantly surrounded by fast electronic media, then our brains start needing constant entertainment, making concentration and paying attention more difficult.
Neuroscience tells us that our human brains are highly changeable, being structurally modified by everything we experience, every time we experience it. This is how we learn new skills through practice, develop habits by repeating behaviour, and lose the ability to do something if we stop doing it. It’s also how we can change the way we feel, think, and function, by creating a lifestyle that shapes us the way we want to be shaped.
So, take on the physical and mental challenge…
Taking part in outdoor activities, whatever our ability, often requires us to overcome challenges, explore our physical potential, and understand the World around us. Great for helping us to improve physical components of ourselves like fitness, strength, balance and agility, in changing and unpredictable environments. But also, to become more confident and resilient individuals as we overcome barriers and achieve new things.
Don’t just sit there…
Our western culture is becoming increasingly sedentary – we have so many machines to do things for us that there is less and less requirement to move. Structured exercise is great, but if we’re sedentary the rest of the time then we don’t reap the health benefits that we expect. Moving in natural environments is a great way to place different loads and forces on our bodies, and encourages different ways of moving which we no longer experience in our sedentary lives.
Being in the wilderness can improve our ability to take in sensory information, by teaching us to pay better attention to what’s around us. It enhances the activity of the right side of the brain, which helps us to perceive things holistically. Like looking through a wide lens, the right side of the brain considers many pieces of information together, forming creative ideas and helping us make intuitive decisions.
Don’t stress about it…
Being in nature has been shown to increase mindfulness – the ability to pay attention to the present moment. Repeating and practicing this ability leads to physical brain changes which help us better control stress, increase feelings of wellbeing, and improve our attention span and memory. Being in wilderness environments can decrease feelings of time pressure and a racing mind, which are often symptoms associated with anxiety.
For me, being outside makes me feel alive! It’s become the place where I find confidence and self-belief. It’s also where I connect to other people in a way that is unique and different to that in day to day life.
SUP is a fantastic way to get outside and be a part of nature. Practically anyone can learn to SUP in a relatively short amount of time, with little or no water experience. For me, it allows me to see Wales from a different angle. It challenges my balance, body control, and has enhanced my understanding of the ocean.
I don’t have a huge background in water sports, I started surfing two years ago, and picked up paddle boarding last year. I’d encourage anyone to just give it a go!
My ULTIMATE Wales expedition…
In June of this year I will set off from Cardiff on a SUP board, paddling approximately 80km along the Bristol channel to Swansea. From there I will swap my SUP kit for cycling gear, heading toward the Snowdonia National Park. I will hike to the summit of all 15 peaks above 3,000ft, before returning to the bike and cycling to my finish point at South Stack Lighthouse on Anglesey.
Although I’m technically doing this alone, I will have support. For the SUP section of my challenge, I am being supported by O’Shea Surf and Puravida Board Riders, who are kindly providing the paddle boarding kit, and offering help with planning and training.
The charities I’ve chosen to support all have a connection to Wales, health, adventure, or the environment. Much of my fundraising focusses on encouraging more people to get outdoors. After Easter I’ll be hosting paddle boarding sessions in Cardiff, supported by South Wales SUP club.
Words – Sarah Leighton
After Easter Sarah will be running some introductory SUP sessions in Cardiff, Wales in conjunction with local SUP clubs to help raise money for her chosen charities – MIND (mental health), SARDA (The Search & Rescue Dogs Association in Wales) and Keep Wales Tidy. So if you fancy having a go at SUP this summer get in touch with Sarah via her website or facebook page.
Good luck with your challenge Sarah!