Guru Magazine - - Contents -

The world’s wit­ti­est ‘ev­i­dence-based’ per­sonal trainer, Matt Lins­dell, shares a touch­ing ac­count of how he over­came his childhood ago­ra­pho­bia. We now have a hard time keep­ing him still. Train­ing tips and more from our Fit­ness Guru – just get your butt to over page 47.


The weather chan­nel said it was - 23 de­grees Cel­sius. And that’s be­fore you fac­tored in the wind. With the windchill ef­fect, it felt closer to - 40 de­grees Cel­sius. Ten kilo­me­tres sep­a­rate me from my work, but this morn­ing I had de­cided to run there. I know it sounds crazy, but af­ter kit­ting my­self in warm and breath­able cloth­ing I did it. And you know what? Even in that weather it felt good. Very good. It wasn’t al­ways like that. When I was a teenager, I was crip­pled with anx­i­ety. Leav­ing the house was ter­ri­fy­ing be­cause I didn’t feel safe. Much of my adolescent ex­is­tence would fit nicely in a box la­belled ago­ra­pho­bia – al­though I was never di­ag­nosed as hav­ing it. But one evening in my late teens, my mother con­vinced me to go for a walk with her. It was a cold win­ter night so the walk was brisk. I left the house feel­ing ap­pre­hen­sive but re­turned home feel­ing… good. And “good” was some­thing I had not felt in a long time. Af­ter months of liv­ing in a prison of seem­ingly end­less anx­i­ety, my evening walk had, for the first time, of­fered relief from my an­guish. As we strolled to­gether, my heart raced and my eyes widened – but not from panic. That brief, en­er­getic ex­pe­ri­ence snow­balled to ul­ti­mately change the way I saw the out­side world and my place in it. More than that, it changed the way I felt about my­self. I went on to learn how to jog and then run: each time I ven­tured out, an ex­er­cise-in­duced ex­hil­a­ra­tion gave me a way to cope with my highly-strung ‘fight-or-flight’ re­sponses. Be­ing out­side had sud­denly given me a sense of com­fort. And even as my mus­cle fi­bres slid back and forth and my heart rate in­creased, I re­mained calm.

Kick­ing the tread­mill

In the late 1990’s I had read about re­search that de­scribes how aer­o­bic ex­er­cise (the kind of ex­er­cise that makes you get out of breath) could pos­i­tively af­fect many psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­or­ders, such as de­pres­sion. It was grat­i­fy­ing to learn that there was sci­en­tific ev­i­dence that aligned with my re­al­ity. More re­cently, I have ex­plored the re­search link­ing ex­er­cise and the mit­i­ga­tion of men­tal ill­ness in greater depth. Decades of re­search all reach one un­equiv­o­cal con­clu­sion: ex­er­cise is good for the mind. Very good. (Just search for ‘ex­er­cise and men­tal health’ in Google Scholar if you’re in any doubt.) As an ev­i­dence-based per­sonal trainer, I can tell you about the fit­ness ben­e­fits that out­door ex­er­cise brings. Run­ning, for ex­am­ple, helps your bones and mus­cles. But tread­mill and trail run­ning are not the same thing: tread­mill run­ning means run­ning in a straight line and so doesn’t al­low for much lat­eral move­ment, whereas a trail leaves your body need­ing to deal with a chang­ing ter­rain. Out­door trails twist from left to right and pitch up and down, caus­ing your an­kles and knees to com­pen­sate. (Hey, you might even have to jump over a pud­dle or two!) And, in moder­a­tion, this can be a very healthy stress on your bones, lig­a­ments and ten­dons. Over time, mus­cles, ten­dons, and bones will strengthen, and fit­ness im­prove­ments will be great. As­sum­ing, of course, that you don’t trip and crack your skull open. I per­son­ally don’t jog with a hel­met... yet.

Mak­ing a hard cy­cle feel easy

Cy­cling out­doors has its ben­e­fits too. Un­like in­door cy­cling, the out­door va­ri­ety tends to in­volve longer rides. Many peo­ple will get on a ‘spin’ bike or cy­cle er­gome­ter and pro­gram in a set amount of time. In con­trast, out­door rid­ing lends it­self to ped­alling for longer, un­doubt­edly

due to the ‘fun fac­tor’ of be­ing out­side: a half hour can eas­ily ex­tend into a ride of an hour or more. Ex­per­i­ments also show this: cy­cling in­doors feels harder than out­doors even if the ex­er­tion is iden­ti­cal. Hills will cause you to use more force in your pedal strokes, tax­ing dif­fer­ent groups of mus­cles and caus­ing you to waf­fle back and forth be­tween aer­o­bic and anaer­o­bic en­ergy sys­tems. Aer­o­bic ex­er­cise (also in­cor­rectly called ‘car­dio’) is the low in­ten­sity ex­er­cise you can sus­tain for a long time. Anaer­o­bic ex­er­cise is the gru­elling, high in­ten­sity work­out. Fast-slow ex­er­cise, like what you do on a bike, is called ‘in­ter­val train­ing’ and is very good for im­prov­ing heart strength, lung ca­pac­ity and over­all fit­ness. Even if you’ve never heard of in­ter­val train­ing, en­coun­ter­ing hills will force you to do it. Pro­vid­ing you don’t stop and walk your bike up the hill, that is. Fit­ness tip: once you get to the top of the hill, try not to stop ped­alling. Keep an even force on the ped­als and go at your reg­u­lar pace un­til your breath­ing re­turns to nor­mal.

Get shred­ded in the sun

Of course, you can also weight-train out­doors. Body­weight train­ing in a park is one of my favourite things to do. Ob­vi­ous ex­er­cises are chin-ups, push ups, and dips. Lunges can be done any­where and rows per­formed on an an­gle can prove chal­leng­ing even for a well­con­di­tioned weightlifter. It is hard work, of course, but do­ing it out­side makes it more en­joy­able: a re­cent anal­y­sis of all pub­lished ex­er­cise re­search con­cluded that train­ing in nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ments gives a greater sense of well­be­ing than do­ing it in­side. Stick­ing to a reg­u­lar ex­er­cise regime is also con­sid­er­ably eas­ier if done out­side. Train­ing out­side will also al­low you to soak up the sun’s rays, which will help your body to cre­ate vitamin D. (Just use your head and wear sun­screen if you plan to be in di­rect sun for a long pe­riod of time.) If you are ac­cus­tomed to ex­er­cis­ing in­doors, then try a few ses­sions out­side and see what hap­pens. It can be ar­gued that it is more dan­ger­ous to ex­er­cise out­doors, but hope­fully you can ap­pre­ci­ate how much greater the ben­e­fits can be. Risks can be mit­i­gated: wear a bike hel­met, don’t run in the mid­day sun, wear lights and re­flec­tive clothes at night or in the early morn­ing, train with a friend and add a bul­let proof vest if you’re do­ing push ups in a dodgy neigh­bour­hood. Go out­side my friends and get un­der some sky.

Fur­ther read­ing:

Spark: The Rev­o­lu­tion­ary New Sci­ence of Ex­er­cise and the Brain by Prof John Ratey This is a book that dis­tils all the cur­rent sci­ence be­hind how ex­er­cise can pos­i­tively af­fect the brain. It is es­sen­tial read­ing for any­one in­ter­ested in how the mind and body work to­gether.


Does par­tic­i­pat­ing in phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity in out­door nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ments have a greater ef­fect on phys­i­cal and men­tal well­be­ing than phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity in­doors? A sys­tem­atic re­view. Change of mus­cle ac­ti­va­tion pat­terns in up­hill cy­cling of vary­ing slope. Lab­o­ra­tory ver­sus out­door cy­cling con­di­tions: dif­fer­ences in pedal­ing biome­chan­ics.

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