It only takes one day of action to change your entire life.
Brazilian-born Maria Tiems’s physical and mental health transformation over the last three years is a testament to that.
Despite living an active life in her younger years, Tiems stopped exercising in her late 30s when juggling the needs of children and full-time work got too much. Years later, she left the formal workforce and spent about four years caring for her sick mother.
“There was really about 12 years where I did no exercise at all,” reflects 53-year-old Tiems. “I was very unhappy and then it spiralled.
“But my turning point came when I turned 49. I thought, ‘I feel 69. I can’t even make it to the front door without running out of breath. This is ridiculous’.
“I knew I had to make a change and there was nothing to stop me. So one day after my birthday, I joined Live Life Get Active and started exercising outdoors. That day changed my whole life.”
Live Life Get Active (LLGA) is a non-profit social enterprise that runs free, outdoor exercise camps in over 120 communities nationwide. To-date, 65,000 people have signed up to participate in the program’s yoga, active training and boxing sessions. LLGA is supported by Medibank as part of its Free + Active initiative that aims to help 1.5 million Australians to get moving, and feel happier and healthier by 2022.
Tiems’s participation in the outdoor exercise sessions started slowly but soon picked up. She explains although she had felt intimidated doing exercise in a gym, exercising outside with likeminded people felt different. It was social, pressure-free and motivating. Being active in in nature changed her attitude to fitness, improved her mental health and boosted her self-confidence.
“I became obsessed with exercising outdoors,” says Tiems. “It just has this freedom about it. You can hear all natural sounds around you – you aren’t in a sterile environment with air conditioning as you are out in the elements.
Being outside is so refreshing and invigorating.”
Tiems became a registered personal trainer about three years after participating in her first LLGA outdoor exercise class. She now works as a LLGA trainer and runs one of Sydney’s biggest camps in Rouse Hill.
“People come to do exercise outdoors rain, hail or shine. Exercising outdoors isn’t easy. It can be tough as sometimes, you’re working against the elements – the heat and cold. So why do they keep coming back? It’s because they are addicted to it. They can see the progress they made: they know the point they started at, where they are now and how much has changed.”
CEO of Live Life Get Active, Amanda King, explains that part of the power of outdoor exercise comes from nature itself. “We believe that to improve people’s health and attitude to exercise, we need to be able to get people outside, away from the [indoor] environments that are adding to the stress and strain of everyday living,” says King.
“Exercising outdoors in a natural environment can make you feel incredible.
“Just think about how you’d feel lying back in a field looking up at the sky and listening to the birds while you’re doing your yoga. You can’t really get better than that.
“When you feel good, you feel like you can do anything. It doesn’t matter what your age is or where you’re from. You’ll start to see and feel the physical benefits of exercise and you will be inspired to eat and live healthily.”
How to get the most from exercising outdoors
A multi-study analysis published in in 2010, examining 10 UK studies and over 1200 participants, demonstrates that exercising in all kinds of green environments, especially in the presence of water, may lead to improvements in self-esteem and mood. The study concludes that the environment “provides an important health service”.
Sport and exercise physician Dr Roslyn Carbon, supports the notion that if you enjoy exercising outdoors, it could produce physiological and mental health benefits.
“The one thing I would say is the body likes to do different movements all the time as it’s what our body is programmed to respond to,” says Dr Carbon, chair of the National Steering Group for Exercises as Medicine for the Australian College of Sport and Exercise Physicians.
“Whole body movements change our physiology better than small body movements. Many of the activities we do outdoors are whole body movements – walking, cycling, cross-country skiing, rowing and swimming – which stimulate your hormones and cardiorespiratory system a lot more than doing a bicep curl or calf raise.”
Exercising outdoors is not always a power walk in the park, especially if the weather is against you. But Tiems explains that wearing suitable clothing is the secret to winning the battle against the elements, no matter the season.
“Wear light clothing in summer, sunscreen and a hat,” Tiems says. “In winter, rug up a bit more wearing layers and gradually, as you warm up during the session, take the layers off. Always carry a drink around with you, and if you experience any discomfort sit down and take a break.”
If joining a formal outdoor exercise group is too much to begin with, Tiems advises that you start simply with a casual walk.
“Exercising outdoors is so empowering. Walking outside is the least intimidating exercise you could pick to do. And after you start, you might find that very quickly, you’ve fallen in love with exercising outdoors.”
The Medibank Free + Active program is a commitment to help all Australians feel happier, healthier and more connected. With a goal to have 1.5 million Aussies take part in Medibank Free + Active by the end of 2022, the program encourages everyone to get together and get moving, while also bringing together a range of community based partners, highlighting free, fun and social activities. To find a local Medibank Free + Active program like Live Life Get Active near you, click here.
Sarah explains how keeping fit and active was the best medicine to fight off her depression in the Better Minds episode of Dr Michael Mosley's Reset, which you can stream now on SBS On Demand. This program was created in partnership with Medibank, editorially produced independently by SBS.