Outdoor Activities to Boost your Mental Health

Spending time outdoors in nature increases your emotional and psychological well-being. The beneficial effects of enjoying nature and fresh air are so good for your mental health that it is being prescribed by mental health practitioners and clinicians as a positive therapeutic tool.

While fresh air and exercise is no replacement for therapy or medical intervention, numerous studies have shown that being one with nature and the elements simply makes us feel better. The positive effects of a single exposure to nature – for example, a walk, a run or a stint in the garden – can last for seven hours after an individual has experienced it! It is also very enjoyable.

Walking away those blues!

Walking is one of the best ways to change your mood from blue to better. And feeling better is a great starting point! Studies of regular walkers have shown increased brain function, increased stamina and a flow of the good feeling hormones, serotonin and melatonin that also boosts your endorphins. Endorphins are a neurochemical that boosts your mental health, decreases your sensitivity to stress and pain, and can even make you feel euphoric or in an improved mood. A study in the Lancet medical journal found that people who exercised on a regular basis (including easy and gentle walking) had less self-reported “bad” mental health days, compared to people who didn’t exercise at all. Walking gets the blood flowing, the heart rate increasing and helps to de-stress in times of trouble. In older people, staying active by gentle walking can improve cognitive function, memory, attention and processing speed, and reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

We can presume that this is true too for the younger walker too. Walking is free and on your doorstep. Choose a pretty part of the world to walk your worries away. Luckily, Ireland is abundant in great parks, beaches, woods or mountain trails within easy access. Ask a friend to join you in making full use of these amenities and in walking your way to feeling happier. And of course all walking will help you to get physically healthier too, so it’s a win-win plan. Invest in some good walking shoes and suitable wet gear so that the positivity is not reduced by soggy weather or blistered toes.

The sea, Oh the sea!

To be beside the sea is a boost to your mood.
A study carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), found that those living along the sea coast were shown to have a lower risk of depression. This was attributed to greater physical activity and social interaction associated with the area but it also concluded that those lucky enough to have regular sea views were deemed to be at the lowest risk of suffering depression. For some people, it is not enough just to view the waves. They want to jump right in. Wild swimming has become one of Ireland’s most popular outdoor activities. Wild swimming groups and clubs are meeting all over the country at sea piers and mountain lakes to take the plunge together. Wild swimming often means diving into freezing water in isolated spots and can be described as absolute madness by those with a less adventurous spirit. However, there is a scientific basis, as well as a level of craziness, to diving in cold water.

A group of Berlin researchers observed a wild swimming group who regularly swam in ice-cold water during the winter. They discovered “a drastic decrease in plasma uric acid concentration” amid participants, both during and after cold water exposure. This resulted in an increased tolerance to stress, according to the findings. Cold water swimmers have also reported improved immune system, better circulation and increased libido, but the emotional benefits are reportedly amazing as pain of plunging into bitterly cold water is rewarded with a tsunami of endorphins. Being immersed in cold water for 15 minutes decreases the heart rate by almost 10%, reducing blood pressure and leading to a calming effect. After that you feel uplifted and happy.

Climbing the Walls!

It’s a daunting activity. It takes courage and a certain degree of skill. Rock climbing is a fast growing sport in Ireland and it is absolutely brilliant for your overall mental health. In the same way as any mindful activity slows down the chattering brain and focuses the mind on the important job in hand, rock climbing is a positive learning experience. It teaches patience while strengthening your mind body co-ordination and it puts life in perspective. Perhaps hanging off a craggy rock on a Saturday afternoon will do that! There are lots of indoor wall climbing facilities to begin your journey, or you might consider joining a club.

In 2017, a research study assessed 40 participants on the mental health benefits of rock climbing. Half the group participated in a single two-and-a-half hour indoor sport climbing session and the other half had a relaxation therapy session. Immediately after the activities, the researchers measured positive and negative effects, using depression and coping with emotions indexes. The results indicated that the climbing group reaped more significant benefits in terms of regulations of emotions and feel good factors, when compared to the second group. The benefits of climbing are so documented and practiced that it now has its own name. Boulder therapy. Call it whatever you like, there is no doubt that literally climbing the walls brings its own healthy feelings and is uplifting on all fronts.

There is no doubt that nature, fresh air and time spent out of doors gives our mental health a positive boost. It is free and it can be a social or a solitary experience. Given all these findings and a dose of nature might indeed be what the doctor ordered.

Useful Resources:

http://outdoorswimming.ie/
https://www.countryliving.com/uk/wellbeing/news/a180/mental-health-benefits-nature-outdoors-study/
https://www.independent.ie/life/health-wellbeing/mental-health/elderly-with-sea-view-at-lower-risk-of-depression-37614722.html

Safe and fun Outdoor Adventure’s for children

Go out and Play!!

Hiking, Hill walking and buggy pushing through nature

You are never too young to appreciate the joys of hillwalking and hiking.  A good pair of walking shoes and suitable clothing is essential to happy trekking trails for younger humans. Just as it is for older hikers! Explore the map and plan the route together before you go, marking the stopping points where treats and drinks can spur their little legs to go a bit further along the way.  Remember that younger hikers may not have the same stamina as you do and therefore you should choose achievable goals.  The Sugar Loaf Mountain in Wicklow, for example, is an accessible trail for most levels.  Check online for medium and easy treks in your own area. For tiny tots, there are many forest walks that will bring adventure and excitement to an afternoon walk.  The Gruffalo Trail in Belfast is an incredibly cute and engaging walk, with carved characters from the iconic story marking the way.

For simple buggy pushing walks and longer hikes check out: 20 family walks  and 5 easy mountains to climb

Rock Climbing and Mountaineering.

Rock climbing and mountaineering are excellent for adventurous children of all ages and abilities. Climbing on real rock is actually very accessible for young climbers. It is a thrilling activity which can be accessed with the expertise of qualified outdoor instructors, making it both safe and fun, in a number of centres and clubs.  Rock climbing and mountaineering can increase a child’s confidence and foster that sense of adventure that makes life worth getting out of bed for. Outdoor rock climbing is available for younger folk at a variety of venues including Carlingford Adventure Centre in County Louth. For suitable mountaineering possibilities for kids, follow this link:  mountaineering.ie & Outdoor rock climbing

Zip Lining and other adventures

Birthday treats and summer holiday adventures may even see you, the willing adult, shelling out some money for outdoor adventure experiences.  Zip lines and aerial walks are super popular with children and best experienced as a team activity.  Safe enough and yet scary enough for the more timid child, zip lines are a wonderful memory making activity. Trip advisor have a comprehensive list of outdoor adventure parks and zip lines in Ireland.  Consult before you go and leave a review when you come home. Delphi Adventure Resort

Water Play with a boost

Forget the large water parks of Europe and check out Ireland’s new craze of inflatable water parks. Somewhere near you in the lakes and sea inlets are large inflatable slides and bouncy castles which are awaiting childish laughter.  Check out the links below and plan a day of splashing and playing in a well supervised outdoor water park. 

Inflatable Water Park

Blue Way Water Park

Bay Sports

Surfing and stand up paddling

Young people can take to surfing like ducks to the proverbial water!  Surf schools have popped up all over the coastline offering affordable surfing lessons for young enthusiasts. Be warned though, a taste of the trills of surfing can lead to a life of outdoor adventures, riding the waves from Brittas to Bundoran.   Surfing builds up a child’s confidence in the water and in their own ability.  They usually take place in waist deep water with qualified instructors with them at all times but are often standing up on their surfboards with big smiles in no time!

A more gentle and sedate fun can be had on a stand-up paddle board.  An afternoon paddling down a quiet river with the family is perfect for enjoying all the nature which thrives along our riverbanks. Supping was unheard of in Ireland a decade ago, but has taken on huge popularity with young and old and makes a wonderful outdoor activity for your bored summer holiday kids.

Paddle Boarding Dublin

SUP Shop Clonakilty

Back garden fun

Being outdoors doesn’t have to be a planned activity every time.  Encourage outdoor play with bed-sheet tents and impromptu picnics.   All you need to provide is pots, pans, water and lots of imagination. With making tiny fairy houses and insect hotels from moss, twigs and whatever you can find.  Lie on the grass. Make daisy chains. Climb trees and swing on gates.   The winter is long enough. Make the best of the long days, the summer sunshine and showers and for heaven’s sake, go out and Play!!

What you need to know before buying a Wet Suit

Get Thick

It is Ireland.  The water is rarely warm.  Choose a wet suit with the magic of neoprene for the chilly Atlantic waves and the icy sting of the Irish Sea. Neoprene has proven itself as maintaining great flexibility under all temperatures.  It is the best option for a good wet suit.  Before purchasing a wet suit, consider the thickness of the neoprene and the protection it gives.  The thickness of a wetsuit starts at 2mm and goes up to a chunky 6mm of protection.  Don’t think that a denser suit will restrict your movements. Designs have improved greatly over the past years and a 6mm wet suit will not impeded your amazing surfing/diving/generally awesome skills in any way.  The wet suit will be thickest around your torso, and then the legs and then the arms.  This is cleverly designed to give optimum warmth to your core. It also makes life easier for wild water swimmers, kayakers and other water sport enthusiasts as the arms keep working, the core is protected. If you are still wondering just how thick you need to be, from a wet suit perspective, then let one our trained staff at Outdoor Adventure Store talk you through the options.  Obviously, if you are navigating giant waves in the North Sea on a chilly November morning, you should opt for the heaviest density of 6mm. If you really don’t take your clothes off for anything less than 21 degrees of rare Irish sunshine, you will be grand with the 3mm. In fact, 3mm is the most popular wet suit as it covers most options for Irish water sports.

A Good Fit

Make sure your wetsuit is a nice snug fit. Chafing is a real problem with ill-fitting wet suits and while the suit should not be cutting off circulation or causing pain, it is normal for this piece of clothing to be the tightest thing you have ever put on. Keep in mind that neoprene stretches when wet and with usage, so If you’re in doubt about the correct size – choose the snugger fit.  Trust us.  It will feel weird at first, particularly as you pull it over the legs and thighs. But, you do not want to be slowed down in the water by folds or air pockets so bear with it.    If a wetsuit wasn’t snug, it would not do its’ job of keeping you warm and improving your buoyancy.  The very purpose of the suit is to keep a very thin layer of water next to your body.  That means that the wetsuit is going to feel very tight, but comfy and touching your skin in the small of the back, backs of the knees etc.

Style.

Wet suits tend to come in the amazing colour range of black, with interesting shades of grey. No one complains about this lack of colour as style in wet suits is really more about the cut and the placement of the zipper.  The style depends on personal preference.  Do you prefer a full-sleeved or sleeveless version?  A Steamer, a Shortie or a Long John.   There are pros and cons to each, but a Steamer, or longer-sleeved wet-suit,  gives more buoyancy and warmth, while the sleeveless versions (a Long John) can be nice for those who don’t like their shoulder range-of-motion restricted, and is particularly used for sailing.  The Steamer design is the most common suit and the one you’ll spend most of your surfing life wearing. Examine the zip before you buy. Back zips run along the spine, making a big opening and so, they are the easiest type to get on.  At Outdoor Adventure Store we stock Typhoon brand, which feature the Storm Keeper Zip, a specialist zip featuring offset teeth that forms a minimum water penetration. The zip can often see water penetration, but this is greatly reduced when you choose a well-made brand.   Some choose front opening zips, but again it is entirely a personal choice.  

Accessories

Gloves, hoods and booties are essential extras which water sport enthusiasts usually add to their kit once they have begun the activities in earnest.   The addition of a good neoprene super-stretch hood with a snug face seal can make facing the winter white water rapids in your kayak a much more pleasant experience.  If you are a hardy wild water swimmer, then you need to have that protection from the brain numbing chills!   Booties not only protect you from the cold, they stop rocks and reefs from damaging your feet. Your feet will stay warm for a longer time. Your hands will be warmer with the addition of gloves, although generally speaking they provide protection from the air and wind chill and not just the water, particularly if you are surfing or canoeing.   Good accessories and the secret to all weather participation in your favourite water activities from surfing to snorkelling,  and just as it is important to buy the right wet suit, you should pick reliable brands in accessories, that will last the test of time and the rigours of your crazy water filled adventures. See our Wet-suit accessories here

When surfing gets extreme along the Wild Atlantic Way

Surfing is one of the fastest growing sports in Ireland.  The upsurge of surf schools and clubs along the Irish coastline is testament to the interest in this exciting and exhilarating pastime. What was once an activity exclusive to tanned, bleached haired hippy dudes, is now a mainstream water sport. From Dublin to Donegal and from Kerry to Tramore, surfers are paddling out and (sometimes very shakily) riding the waves back to shore.  The improvement in wet suits and waterproof gear has contributed to making surfing a more popular leisure pursuit, particularly in the cold Atlantic water. Enthusiasts from any part of the country don’t need to drive too far to find waves on this beautiful island, and even Dublin folk can find surfing down the road in Britta’s Bay.

But, when the ice cream vans have boarded up for the winter, the shoreline surfers change. When the sun umbrellas are packed away and the tourists are confined to tramping over beaches muffled up in scarves, hats and mittens, surfing takes a more serious turn. Yes, there are still some novices in the quieter spots on those rare calm days, but the winter is the season of extreme surfing and Ireland is right up there with the most audacious wave riding anywhere in the world.

Wild Atlantic way extreme surfing is not for the faint hearted.  30 and 40ft waves tower above surfers and spectators alike.  Mullaghmore in Sligo has some legendary waves for the bravest heavy water riders.  Local surfers like Conor Maguire, who grew up surfing the Donegal coastline and always pushed himself to heavier and heavier waves. Irish surfers know the risks involved in heavy-wave surfing, but it has not hampered the rise in brave souls getting towed out to monster waves in Irish waters.  International surfers have started to arrive in their droves too.  From October to March, the chances of a perfect storm of waves tempts surfers and spectators alike. Weather conditions that would  may send most of the population huddling for the fireside and the TV, brings extreme surfers and fans to the clifftops and the beaches, to witness human resilience and wave riding skill at its best.

No wave has the mythical reputation of the great Aileen.  Situated off the coast of the iconic Cliffs of Moher, Aileen is the mother of all monster waves when she appears.  As majestic as the cliffs themselves, Aileen is as beautiful as she is frightening. The thunderous, 12m barrel wave that assaults the Cliffs of Moher is described by scientists at NUI Galway as the nearest thing to a “perfect wave”.

 ‘After the discovery of Aileen’s, many who had seen it were left in doubt as to whether it would be possible to ride at all. But Lahinch surf school owner John McCarthy was undeterred; he became the first surfer to take on the colossus of Clare, and his experience has since pried open a world of possibility and helped put Irish big wave surfing on the map’  

Surfer John McCarthy recalls ‘The wave itself is one of the most terrifying waves in the world that you’ll see,” McCarthy says, “so when you go out and you see a wave like that…your initial feeling is just absolute fear and… you know, you’re scared for your life. It took quite a while before we could ride it successfully.”  After surfing the big waves for a decade, John has ceased tackling these magnificent monsters, citing safety issues. The risk of injury or death is extremely high and these big waves demand a lot of respect from the wave riders. Conor has suffered fractured vertebrae and broken ribs among minor injuries. There is of course, a support team, who tow the surfer out and swoop in on their jet-skis if there is a sign of difficulty.  Extreme surfers go out as a team and return as a team, but it is in that wonderful moment of beauty as a surfer rides a huge barrel wave, disappearing and emerging in the angry surf, that the effort and sacrifice melts away and we are all held in a moment of complete awe and reverence, before it all comes crashing down with the waves.

Extreme wave riders have pushed the boundaries of surfing in Ireland and put the Irish surfing scene firmly on the International map.  Not everyone has the time, the money or the commitment (never mind the skills and complete craziness) to surf heavy water, but they are ambassadors for the unspoiled beauty of Irish coastlines and their complete suitability for surfers of all skill levels. As the reputation of Irish surfers grows internationally and we welcome more enthusiasts to the sport in Ireland, it means a welcome boost to Irish tourism.

Whether you surf for fun and thrills or for extreme adrenaline hits Outdoor Adventure Store can keep you warm from head to toe with winter gear. We have a great selection of wet-suits, booties, hoods and gloves and all the essentials to keep you cosy on the shore and in the water.  Link to water-sport stock

Surfing the Irish Coastline

Hang Ten. It’s big wave season!

“Surfing leads you through life, especially when you’re young and with hope in your heart.”
Tom Blake

Ireland is home to some of the biggest and best waves in the world. From November to February is the most exciting time of year. It’s big wave season.

With some of the most famous waves in the world breaking just off the Atlantic shoreline, Ireland attracts the exclusive and brave tribe of extreme surfers, this time of year. Iconic waves like the Peak in Bundoran, County Donegal and the Aileen in the Cliffs of Moher, County Clare entice the world’s surfers to our wild coastline. The surfing is spectacular, the risks high and the adrenalin even higher.  The wave, Aileen has been described as the nearest thing to a ‘perfect wave’ but she is not for the fainthearted! Described by filmmaker Peter Clyne as “The mammoth waves that Aileen produces are dwarfed only by the majestic, unspoilt Cliffs of Moher”. Aileen’s Wave is somewhat of a mystical surf spot and you have to be extremely lucky to catch this perfect wave – it appears only a few times a year when the conditions are just right. It can reach up to 12 metres and attracts the world’s top surfers, hopeful for the thrill of a lifetime. Clare is not the only coastline promising the ride of your life. The waves at Mullaghmore are not for the fainthearted, reaching a staggering 15 metres when the conditions are right and making them one some of the biggest waves to hit the Irish coastline. With consistent good waves all year round, this incredible reef break off the cliffs at Mullaghmore is amongst the best big-wave surf spots in the world. Last February, Conor Maguire (Bundoran, Ireland) towed into an emerald wall of waves in Mullaghmore Sligo, becoming barrelled and escaping the foam ball monster. This feat makes him a contender for the prestigious Billabong Ride of Year Award. You can experience the thrill of it all here:

Surfing the waves in Ireland is now a mainstream sport but also a fast growing pastime and always an amazing tourist attraction. All along the Wild Atlantic Way and even on the east coast around Brittas Bay, surfing schools are providing hire of equipment, advice and instructions to a growing number of surfers. For a minimum outlay of money, this fantastic sport can be accessed by people of all ages and expertise. Surfing is no longer an elitist pursuit, nor the vocation of tanned hippy types.  Surfing is for all. Lahinch in County Clare has been welcoming surfers for decades and is one of the country’s most popular spots for learners and newbies to begin their life of catching waves. A welcoming town, full of summer fun and lots to do for families and surfers alike, Lahinch has built a tourist industry around surfing. Donegal also boasts fantastic waves. In Bundoran and Rossnowlagh, the surfing waves are only rivalled by the amazing views and unspoilt golden beaches. The Irish Tourist board says ‘Bundoran has been nicknamed the ‘surf capital of Ireland’ in recent years and it’s not difficult to see why. With an abundant choice of beaches, varying swells, varying sizes and with waves coming from every direction, Bundoran is a surfers dream. Watersports fans descend on this tiny seaside town all year round to catch some of the best that the west coast has to offer. Once you’ve tired yourself in the surf, enjoy the town’s pubs and live music venues.’ Sligo boasts amazing surfing too, not just at Mullaghmore, but at both at Strandhill and at Easkey. Strandhill is just ten minutes from Sligo City, famed for its food, music and welcome. Strandhill is one of the coolest surfing villages in Ireland. If you need to check out the waves or the weather, log on to Strandhill’s Surf School and check out their funky live surfcam .

The Atlantic Coast provides the most spectacular places for surfers to enjoy their sport but there are waves for surfing on the east coast too! Brittas Bay in County Wicklow is proving an increasingly popular spot for Dublin bound surfers. Hoards of boards on roofs are racing out every Friday evening to catch a wave and blow off the week’s hard work. Meath is also a growing surf spot for the commuter belt folk who need a surfing fix in between their sojourns to the Atlantic waves.

Surfing is wonderful exercise, but it does seem to call to something more in the expert practitioner. Something more spiritual, more zen which is experienced in the patience of paddling out to deep water, of facing each wave and mastering (or not mastering) and riding out the surf. Fun, spiritual or madness. The waves are not going anywhere and the surfers will keep on coming.

“Surfing soothes me, it’s always been a kind of Zen experience for me. The ocean is so magnificent, peaceful, and awesome. The rest of the world disappears for me when I’m on a wave.”
Paul Walker