By Nqobile ‘Billz’ Mkhatshwa
Let’s face it, the gym environment isn’t made for all of us. We are not the same and we flourish in different spaces so it’s understandable if you find that you loathe the idea of sweating alongside a hundred other strangers and being confined in a space in which you breathe the same air. I know that some of us are finicky like that. I get it. Others just don’t like having to wait to take turns on gym equipment, the ‘vibe’ of gym isn’t quite for them and nothing irks them more than crowded places.
There are a number of reasons that keep some of us away from the gym vicinity, perhaps you can identify with the few I’ll list:
- The smell of gym
- Time consuming (the drive there, changing, getting your bag into a locker, wiping off people’s sweat, waiting to get on some gym equipment etc.)
- Germaphobia (the sweat again)
- Cost and fees
- Intimidating and overwhelming (by the various machines and not knowing what to do with them or just where to start)
- Feeling out of place among regulars
- Concern/anxiety over being watched
So what’s the alternative if you find no joy in a gym? Is it the end of your fit and healthy life (or your attempt at it) if you cannot afford gym membership? Well of course not! You haven’t explored outdoor options, have you? This is of course hoping that you’re possibly keen on outdoor activities. I’ll share on my favourite first – hiking! Have you tried it? Going for long and vigorous walks on footpaths or taking it further into backpacking? Okay, maybe let’s stick to just hiking for now. I have read extensively and have first-hand experience too to boldly say that there’s so much good in hiking: firstly, the fresh air, then the natural music from the sounds of the birds and the smell of nature. Hiking is also a great cardio workout which strengthens your core, lowers your risk of heart disease, builds strength in your hips and lower legs, improves your blood pressure and sugar levels, helps control your weight, improves your balance and best of all, hiking improves your mood by dealing with stress and anxiety.
Research also insists that being out in nature is part of who we are as people and so the impact on our body and mind is a pleasant side-effect we get to experience from such an activity. Apart from perhaps paying an entrance fee at some nature reserves, you do not have to pay anyone to get your hiking gear on and enjoy time-out within nature!
Before I started out with hiking, I’d go for long walks which are also a good starting point for general fitness. There is also solid good in walking, similar to hiking, although there’s of course less impact in walking as it is low intensity and you’re less likely to injure yourself whilst at it (unless you happen to trip over something if you’re not watching where you are stepping). And this is a plus, right? Walking daily (I find early morning’s particularly glorious) can be meditative if you wish it to be. Your mind gets the chance to wonder off in a different direction and be distracted by your surroundings.
The time spent walking can also be time spent to clear your head and although it’s not all the time that your mind will silence up, I find that walking still offers a boost in energy and good feels. So try it, especially if you’re feeling stuck, your creative juices aren’t flowing right and you just want to be a little more productive. I can promise you that you will experience a change in your mood and you will be less frustrated about your world even if whatever challenge hasn’t been sorted. Like hiking too, walking will lower your risk of stroke, cancer, heart disease and diabetes. And believe it or not, walking is also a form of exercise so you will experience loss of weight (paired with a good diet) and control of weight as your self-awareness increases too. And here’s the best part about daily walks, they are free and easy! A brisk 3 to 5 kilometres for a start? Why not? You can take these walks anywhere and if you like, it can become a social activity where you have friends and interested parties join you.
There are of course plenty of options that you can try out in the outdoor space for exercise, especially if you’re unhappy with being at the gym or are just not interested in it as an option for your healthy and fit life. There’s running, cycling, abseiling, canoeing, rock climbing, rafting, horseback riding, surfing, kayaking etc., but I find that these options lean more towards extreme outdoor sports and may require that you get a personal coach to help you along. This is of course not a problem if you’re up to the challenges and costs involved but if what keeps you away from gym includes costs and fees, then perhaps the walking and hiking route may be what you’d like to try out first.
Whatever your decision at the end of the day, know that it is okay not to like the gym space and that you do have outdoor options that can do you a world of good. I’m obviously secretly hoping that we will meet somewhere up in the mountains bossing up on the numerous trails there are!