How to keep exercising outdoors in the drought

“How CAN you keep exercising outdoors in the drought????”

I’m writing this blog post because over the past year lots of people have said they just don’t know how I can keep exercising outdoors in the drought. We typically think of nature as nurturing and health-giving, a place of solace and retreat. Being confronted by a shockingly dry environment with frequent bushfires, brown landscapes that used to be green, National Park closures, and dry waterways, it’s clear that nature has a shadow side as well.

flowers before the drought

“It’s REALLY tough!”

To be completely open, I’ve also questioned how I can keep exercising outdoors in the drought. The whole climatic situation has been tough. Really tough! The ripple effect of the drought has swept up farmers, wildlife, local businesses, ‘town’ people, and those in the cities. We’re all affected in various ways either directly or indirectly. There’s a pervasive and damaging sense of hopelessness, and like any emotion, it’s contagious. Yet a sense of hope is exactly what we need to survive difficult or traumatic situations. Where there’s hope, there’s life. Without it, we spiral into a self-fulfilling doom and gloom mentality.

Exercising outdoors has been very confronting. I can’t walk on my home trails without seeing or smelling death. The brown dust colours my view as if I’m looking through a sepia filter. Ticks are in plague proportions. Swarms of good ole slow country flies are driving me nuts. The heat is unbearable. And there’s not enough water for washing your hair after a workout.

My stress tank is overflowing! How about you?

My connection with nature runs very deep, as does my yearning to be active. But in this tough time, I also came down with shingles. My stress tank began to overflow. I had to do something differently. Bushwalking and bike riding whilst constantly thinking about the drought and feeling unwell was contributing to the stress.

So what CAN you do when being in nature is SO stressful?

You have to put your creative thinking hat on to find a solution when things get tough. What worked before is no longer effective. The questions people keep asking me (and that I wanted solutions for too) are:

  • How can I reconnect with the side of nature that heals and nurtures and teaches?
  • How can I enjoy my time outdoors without feeling overwhelmed?
  • What mindset shift do I need?
  • What actions do I need to take?
  • How can I keep exercising everyday?
exercising in the drought
Exercising in the drought has it’s challenges

So I set you to explore this new territory and experiment with the possibilities!

Here are 6 solutions that I’ve discovered. I hope they work for you too!

1. Podcasts

If you haven’t got on the bandwagon yet, then you really need to! Podcasts are audio shows, a bit like a radio show, that you can either stream from the Internet or download onto a device to listen to later. I download episodes from my favourite shows onto my phone, plug my ear phones in, and listen to inspiring, energising interviews while I walk. Instead of focusing my attention on my surroundings, I lose myself in the show and arrive back home with excitement for life and new ideas to put into action. Watch out for a future blog post about my favourite podcasts suitable for Android or Apple.

2. Set an Intention

Before heading out on a walk or ride, I often choose an intention – something I want to focus on or get out of my experience. This is a personal choice, so it can be anything at all. Some of the intentions I’ve set for myself go like this:
“Today I will notice new growth”
“Today I will focus on the sensations in my legs”
“Today I will find fun”
“Today I will discover colour”
“Today I will notice sounds”

3. Mindful Walking

With mindful walks I like to focus on one sense at a time and when I notice my mind has wandered away from my body, I gently bring it back to rest on my senses. I’ve especially enjoyed focusing on my sense of hearing – noticing the many different bird calls, the sounds of the breeze in the trees, my footsteps on the ground, insects buzzing around, wallabies bounding along. I usually focus on one sense for a few minutes, then move onto another one. With my sense of touch, I focus on how it feels to have clothes on my skin, feet in my shoes as I take a step, muscle movement, sunscreen on my face, leaves brushing my skin. When I focus on my sense of sight, I challenge myself to find colours and light and patterns that I don’t normally notice. You can also use a meditation app with a guided practice for mindfulness of walking.

4. Photography

I’ve discovered that taking photos along the way really helps me to bring my attention to the beautiful things. Sometimes I combine photography with an intention or a mindful walk so that I can collect images that bring me joy, and at the same time it helps my brain to collect evidence that there is hope.

5. Make it Social

Walking or riding with other people can be really helpful because the focus is on that invisible connection between myself and someone else. Give me a deep and meaningful conversation with a friend any day, plenty of laughs, a chance to debrief the stuff of life that drives me crazy, and to celebrate the rest. Sometimes, too, there’s a sneaky competitive edge that sees me running or riding faster when I’m with others. Inevitably that ends up in a heap of laughs too, gasping for air, heart pounding out of my chest, and the satisfaction that I’ve done my weekly interval training.

6. Mix it up

I’ve always said “I’m not a gym person”. I’ve built a business and identity around my outdoor adventures. BUT, being unwell and being in the drought has helped me re-set my rigid thinking about exercise. Instead of going outdoors everyday, I went to an aqua class with a friend, did loops of the river walk in town where it’s a bit greener, and took up an irresistible offer to join a gym. I’ve extended the variety of exercise I get which is a fantastic thing! It will help me enjoy and have greater success with my outdoor adventuring which I’m still doing at least a couple of times a week. Going to the gym also gets me focusing on my sadly neglected strength training (one of those things I really ‘should’ be doing at my age!), all whilst staying out of the flies and heat. I get to make new friends and pace myself sensibly (sort of) as I recuperate. At home I’ve also begun a more regular yoga practice – something I’ve been wanting to do but it’s been a lower priority until now.

To Sum Up: Choose Your Focus!

It’s really all about CHOOSING WHAT YOU FOCUS ON. When we feel like we have What's my plan of action to deal with this issue?no control or influence over a situation (like the drought), it’s important to push the pause button, think about it creatively, and choose your focus. Like many people, I’ve struggled with exercising outdoors in the drought. The ideas I’ve shared in this article have made a huge difference to me, my mental state and my physical health. My hope is that they help you too.

Let me know what works for you! Have you got some other ideas to share with our readers?

Daisy Spoke

Discovering mountain biking as life’s ultimate parallel universe in her middle age, Kathryn Walton shares information and reflections in ‘Daisy Spoke’ that inform, inspire and empower women to a healthy and active lifestyle.

Busy Head Syndrome, Weeding and Creating a Clearing

“The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett is one of those books that I definitely have in my basket of ‘all time favourites’. Having read it many times as a child and an adult, I well and truly relate to many of the scenes. One that sticks in my mind is when Mary secretly lets herself into the garden that has been locked up for many years, and without knowing anything about gardening, she instinctively clears little patches of earth surrounding the green shoots she finds in the ground.

She did not know anything about gardening, but the grass seemed so thick in some of the places where the green points were pushing their way through that she thought they did not seem to have room enough to grow. She searched about until she found a rather sharp piece of wood and knelt down and dug and weeded out the weeds and grass until she made nice little clear places around them. “Now they look as if they could breathe,” she said …..’

*AC85 B9345 911s, Houghton Library, Harvard University

It was only later that Mary discovered her instincts guided her wisely.

I remember the therapeutic effect of clearing weeds in the garden as a child. And as an adult I still get a kick out of weeding. The end result always improves the wellbeing of my much loved herb and vegetable garden, but of even greater consequence is the clearing it provides in my own head! Being self-diagnosed with ‘Busy Head Syndrome’, my mind is a veritable storehouse of ideas, thoughts, creations, experiences, fantasies, memories and dreams. It can get pretty noisy in there! But with each weed from the garden that I pile onto the compost heap, my head goes through a parallel process of clearing out and letting go.

Some people describe the process of de-cluttering the house or cleaning out a cupboard in a similar way. I’m often amazed at the different life lessons we can learn from our ordinary everyday activities – if we pause for long enough to think about it.

Now, with my busy week coming up, I’m off to do some weeding in the garden – to clear some space not only for my shallots and asparagus, but the inside of my head too!

Discovering mountain biking as life’s ultimate parallel universe in her middle age, Kathryn Walton shares information and reflections in Daisy Spoke that connect, inspire and self-empower women to make healthy choices for themselves.

Mountain Biking is my Parallel Universe! (Part 2)

Life is unpredictable, and so is mountain biking!

This is another life lesson that I’ve been reflecting on over the past few months as I’ve challenged myself in “My MTB Experiment”. My hypothesis was that I’d reconnect with the fun side of mountain biking by getting out on my bike more often, and so far it’s been proving itself correct!

One of my discoveries has been that those things that freak me out on the trails (you know those things …. normal everyday features of nature like stones, sticks, tree roots, mud, sand and dust) really aren’t so bad after all. Sure they’ll always be there and I can’t do much about that, but I can change the way I react.

It happens that these trail features have led me to feeling like I lack control of my bike, and I’ve actually fallen off a few times over the past few months and hurt myself. A few bruises and scratches and scrapes here and there is all part of the fun, like collecting souvenirs on a holiday. But then there was a chest injury from a heavy impact fall when I fell on a rotting tree stump, and a suspected broken toe from another tree stump. I don’t like falling off and I don’t like hurting myself. It’s scary, and ….. well, hurt-y! And it stops me getting back out exercising at my preferred intensity for WAY TOO LONG afterwards!

Recently, as I’ve focused my attention on my body position whilst riding, I’ve become more mindful of my whole self. I’ve become more aware of my self in space, my thoughts, body feedback, and internal reactions when encountering unpredictable elements on trail rides. I’ve found that I’ve had time and space to take a breath in between noticing what’s going on and responding. With this time and space, I’ve been better able to choose my response rather than simply reacting in an instinctive way. So, for example, as my back wheel slips sideways because a stone has kicked out from underneath, I’ve been able to breathe and stay calm, keep my weight low and centred and focus on steering myself in the direction I want to go, and I know that my back wheel will follow me.

Dealing with unpredictable trail features has also helped me to deal better with the unpredictable nature of life in general. I’ve noticed that when various unexpected things have happened in life recently, I’ve been able to keep going calmly in the direction I choose, holding onto my power and control, refusing to be thrown by situations that I can’t control.

BUT ….. I CAN control MY own responses. And that’s where the real power is!

Happy Mountain Biking!