Saved by the wild

By combining the rejuvenating powers of exercise and nature, you can be happier, healthier and more fun, says Di Westaway.

I discovered trekking 15 years ago, as a grumpy 40-year-old mum who needed to get out of the house.

With three little kids, there was no time for me. It was a rollercoaster of emotions: the highest of the high to the lowest of the low – and definitely no time to exercise.

But I was saved by the wild. An acquaintance, who was a personal trainer, invited me to climb Mt Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the southern hemisphere. My husband reluctantly agreed to let me go. My friends thought I might die. But I went.

I was a complete novice, putting crampons (those spiked climbing shoes) on for the first time ever when we saw snow. I suffered from altitude sickness and failed to summit, and it wasn't fun in the slightest.

But it was exhilarating. I felt truly alive. I went way out of my comfort zone and was hooked on the feeling. And it motivated me to get really fit and healthy.

The Research shows that being active in nature:
  • reduces negative thoughts
  • reduces anxiety
  • reduces depression
  • improves memory
  • reduces cardiovascular disease
  • helps prevent and control diabetes
  • increases energy levels
  • reduces blood pressure
  • burns calories
  • increases bone density
  • lowers cancer risk
  • elevates your mood
  • alleviates insomnia
  • gives you a dose of vitamin D
  • reduces bad cholesterol
  • gets your creative juices flowing
  • is inexpensive
  • improves immunity
  • promotes longevity
  • improves concentration
  • reduces sick leave
  • helps us manage stressful life events
  • improves strength, balance and coordination
  • rejuvenates and revitalises
  • decreases tension
  • makes you happy!

That adventure transformed my life completely. I came home happy, excited and refreshed, ready to tackle motherhood and find a new challenge to keep me healthy and motivated.

I learned that by having a big hairy audacious goal to train for, I was in fact putting my own oxygen mask on first. And that made me a better mum, a better wife and a better nurturer.

What I didn’t understand at the time was why this experience made me so happy. Now I know.
Trekking, hiking and walking in nature have been shown to have incredible health benefits, both physical, mental and emotional. And there is a mounting body of research to prove it. Trekking is trending fast.

In the past 10 years participation in walking has increased by 44% and bushwalking by 6%. Extreme and adventure sports are on the rise, as is active travel. And there’s good reason for it. It makes us happier, healthier and more fun.

Australians are increasingly using technology, like Fitbits and phone apps, to monitor their fitness progress as they participate in a wide range of activities, including freeform outdoor pursuits. And, Fitness Australia’s 2014 survey tells us that 40 per cent of Aussies want to get fit but aren’t members of gyms. This is a great opportunity for the fitness industry. Personal trainer-led walking and trekking groups, and adventure fitness preparation sessions present fantastic business opportunities.

Since I first experienced the health benefits of walking in nature, I’ve seen thousands of women experience these benefits. Over the past six years alone, the Wild Women On Top Coastrek events have helped nearly 15,000 people get fit trekking with friends.

Women like 76-year-old Margaret Sheridan, who took up adventures in her forties when her son took her rafting the Franklin. Since then, she’s trekked the high passes of Bhutan and walked all the way across the UK. Next month she’ll be climbing Mt Fuji with us, as well as having done Sydney Coastrek several times.

Broadcaster and journalist, Julie McCrossin, credits walking with women in nature for getting her through a life threatening illness. Not only did she survive the trauma of aggressive throat cancer, but she’s now thriving as the Patron of Sydney Coastrek, Team Trekking challenge. She’s walked 50km along the Sydney Coast and transformed her life.

Gen Y women like Magdelena Rose, Caroline Pemberton and Libby Trickett have all embraced outdoor challenges to keep them fit in nature, as have health-conscious celebrities like Lorna Jane, Sarah Wilson, Lola Berry, Reece Witherspoon and Orlando Bloom.

The fitness industry builds communities which value health, fitness, nutritious food, friends, meditation and relaxation. And preparing clients for adventure challenges in nature and providing training for life’s adventures is another powerful way to reach out.
Our culture of health can give us purpose. Your purpose can be to reach out and share the health benefits of being active in nature with others; to educate and empower your clients, friends, work colleagues and family; to live by example and to show the world how to live long enough to meet your great grand kids.

With all this going for it, why not add some outdoor training to the services you offer, and share these wonderful benefits with the world?

Di Westaway, BEd Grad Dip (Journ) has been involved in the fitness industry for over 30 years, as a coach, a presenter and the founder of Wild Women On Top. Since 2009 her team has been organising the Sydney Coastrek Team Challenge, which has raised over $9 million for The Fred Hollows Foundation. In 2016 the Coastrek is also taking place in Melbourne for the first time.Di is the author of Wild Women On Top: How to Prepare for World Class Treks