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The good life
7:00am Saturday 28th April 2012 in Health
Winter hibernation is officially over! It's time to get out and about and make the most of the improving weather. Bess Manson finds fun ways to achieve health and wellbeing benefits from the great outdoors.
By Bess Manson.
Children are being encouraged to get outdoors by the National Trust which has drawn up a list of 50 things to do before you're 11 and three-quarters.
There's a host of simple, nature-loving adventures on the list, from tree climbing to camping or building a den.
The activities are intended to encourage youngsters away from a couch-potato lifestyle.
But why should kids have all the fun? The rest of us can also benefit from getting out and about.
Even a regular short walk could help boost our chances of staying fit and avoiding illnesses such as heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes.
In general, the chief medical officer, the Government's principal medical adviser, says adults should walk for at least 30 minutes a day for five or more days a week.
But research by charity Living Streets found that around 64% of us walk for less than hour a week.
Those in the Midlands are the least likely to take a stroll, and people in the South East were found to be the most active - but even then it's only around one in 10 who walk for more than two hours a week.
So it's time to take a deep breath and start taking advantage of the outdoors. We've put together seven fun ways to get you started.
Take a hike Get fit and refreshed in the great outdoors by taking a walk. It's less harsh on the body than a run and you can take in your surrounds or contemplate the meaning of life along the way.
Living Streets, which works on behalf of pedestrians, is running a 2012 Great British Walking Challenge in May.
"There are so many physical, psychological, social and financial benefits to be gained from walking," says Tony Armstrong, the charity's chief executive.
"We think people will be amazed at what a difference a short blast of fresh air can do for them. Not just improving your physical health but putting you in a great mood, helping you calm down or cheer up, catch up with old friends or make new ones.
"Research shows that regular exercise such as taking the stairs rather than the lift can turn back the clock by three years, and regular walking can reduce the risk of many illnesses such as heart disease."
Living Streets holds its Walk to Work Week from May 14-18; and Walk to School Week from May 21-25. For more information and to register, visit www.livingstreets.org.uk/gbwc Take a bike Ditch the car/bus/Tube and use some peddle power to get you where you need to go.
Use your bike each spring and summer and you'll save money on transport, get fit, avoid traffic jams, and bypass crowds, as well as experience travelling with the wind blowing through your hair.
Plan a route by visiting www.transportdirect.info Ready, body, go...
Start a daily exercise routine to get in shape, such as a jog, walk or workout in a garden or the park.
Sport and exercise expert Kirstie Tew suggests you buddy-up with someone in your bid to shed a few pounds.
Choose an exercise you like and when you hit your milestones, reward yourself - not with chocolate but a non-food-related treat, such as a spa treatment or your favourite magazine.
Take advantage of the longer days and warmer temperatures and take up a hobby that gets you outside, whether its tennis or football or joining a walking club.
The Ramblers, Britain's charity for walkers, has information and details of walking events and routes. For more information, visit www.ramblers.org.uk Camp out Grab a tent, some outdoor cooking equipment, a good insect repellent and get back to nature.
While no one really likes an ablution block (though it's a given you're going to get mucky in the outdoors) and there's nowhere to hide from a storm, it's the unpredictability that makes it all the more fun.
Tip: Don't take a mirror. No one looks good on day three of a camping trip. For details of sites, visit www.ukcampsite.co.uk Set kids free Shinning up a tree, rolling down a grassy hill and cooking on a campfire are among the list of simple outdoor pleasures compiled by the National Trust.
The so-called 'bucket list' documents outdoor adventures every child should experience, and has been drawn up to energise a generation who rely on computers and television for entertainment.
"Children need to be given the confidence and skills to go into the woods and build a den or climb a tree. The outdoors is a treasure trove, rich in imagination," says Fiona Reynolds, director general of the National Trust.
"It brings huge benefits that we believe every child should have the opportunity to experience. And there are huge costs when they don't." For more information, visit www.50things.org.uk Crank up the BBQ A barbecue isn't just for parties and blazing hot weather.
Nothing but high winds and lashing rain should stop the keen outdoor chef from stoking up the barbie.
Get a barbecue cookbook for inspiration - a steady diet of sausages and burgers can lose its charm after a few cookouts. For ideas, visit The British BBQ Society at www.bbbqs.com/content Date out Forget stuffy restaurants and crowded bars. Next time you go on a date, make it outdoors.
Watch the sun set, go stargazing, fly a kite, or head to the water. Take an adventure and you'll get a pretty good measure of your date.
Your surroundings will make for stimulating conversation and with a bit of luck, some blossoming romance. For outdoor date ideas, visit www.niftydateideas.com/Pages/Outdoor-Date-Ideas.html Tried & Tested Sleep is vital for our health but it can be difficult to find the land of nod if we're travelling or in unfamiliar surroundings. Renato Granieri tests an eye mask which claims to be impervious to light.
What is it?
Invented 20 years ago in the US, the Mindfold eye mask was originally designed as a meditation tool to shut out light.
The mask features foam pads with eye cutouts, allowing the user to keep their eyes open in complete darkness.
The mask can be used for relaxation, airline travel, and even has reported medical benefits: as a relief for post-eye surgery and also to alleviate headaches and migraine.
What's it like?
I've always had a phobia of flying, so often use eye masks to try to relax during flights.
But most of the flimsy masks supplied on planes do little more than dig into my skin.
The Mindfold, however, is extremely comfortable to wear, with an adjustable velcro strap for comfort and there's enough space for air to circulate.
The foam eye mask sits comfortable across the bridge of your nose, putting absolutely no pressure on the eyes. I often get stress headaches on planes, so found this feature quite useful.
Women who wear eye make-up would also be likely to benefit, as the mask doesn't cause smudging.
Best of all, the mask really does completely shut out every last glint of daylight.
The mask is designed to aid relaxation, but it isn't ideal for sleeping in bed as it's quite thick, so it can be annoying if you sleep on your side.
However, for situations where you might need to sleep upright - such as planes - it's brilliant. Along with my passport, this is now part of my essential travel kit.
:: Information: The Mindfold mask, £13.50, available from Vital Life. For stockist details call 020 7720 1441 or visit www.vital-life.org.uk