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Missing: the British Spirit of Adventure?

Drovers' road

Some very depressing, but fascinating statistics here about the pathetic, depressing state of Britain today. I know that sounds like a Daily Mail statement, but this is pretty sad stuff. And I know I’ve already mentioned some of these before, but they definitely merit shouting about. In fact this is basically the reason I began pushing the idea of Microadventures. And it’s definitely a rallying cry worth plugging at the start of a New Year.

I’ve prcised the piece, but you can read it all at FreshAirFix.

A study has revealed that shows that whilst three quarters of us like the outdoors, huge numbers have never tried simple outdoor activites such as standing on a mountain (40%), riding a horse (50%) or swimming in natural water (41%).

85% of the UK landscape is fresh green fields, lakes and beautiful mountains, but in the last year over a quarter of us haven’t had fresh air in our lungs and a fifth haven’t even walked on a natural surface.

The report shows that the main reasons were never having been given the opportunity (59%) and a third have been too scared to try (33%).

Keeping ourselves indoors is having a drastic effect on our wellbeing. Dr Victor Thompson, sports psychologist and adrenalin expert commented on the results. “Getting outdoors is vital for maximising our quality of life and as an antidote to our urban, stressful environments. It is proven that physical exertion outdoors can reduce incidence of heart disease, depression, joint aches, digestion, diabetes and of people’s perceived wellbeing so freeing people to experience the world beyond their sofa is incredibly important.

Fear is the biggest barrier to getting outdoors for the youngest surveyed: 57% of 18 – 24 year olds cited it as the reason they hadn’t tried new things. This fear drops to 19% in our go-getting twenties though, and by the time we reach our 40s is just 10%.

Whilst one in five of us (18%) say their last adrenalin rush was in the great outdoors, we are relying on sex (17%) and rollercoasters (13.7%) to get us excited otherwise. With the world cup fast approaching, 10% of boys actually said their last thrill was watching a game (not playing!) and more girls (18%) got a flush from romance than any other activity.

47% of those surveyed said they were more productive at work if they’d been adventurous outside on the weekend – however, 24% had never had a weekend adventure in their lives. Despite this fact, just 12% of bosses encourage outdoor pursuits in the UK.

Men want their girls to get out more – 35% wish their partner was more active compared to 25% of women wishing the same.

Do you agree? Are we a nation of sofa lovers, or are the British coming out of their shells and embracing the great outdoors?

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  1. Pretty shocking stuff Al, one of my aims this year is to at least once a month head into the Highlands and climb a munro or two.

    • Catherine Handy Posted

      Thats a really good commitment to make – climbing 24 mountains in a year would be some achievement.
      Good luck

  2. The numbers don’t look great but…

    If you rewrite it, it sounds like a different story:

    A study has revealed that shows that three quarters of us like the outdoors and huge numbers have tried simple outdoor activites such as standing on a mountain (60%), riding a horse (50%) or swimming in natural water (59%).

    47% of those surveyed said they were more productive at work if they’d been adventurous outside on the weekend and 76% had been on a weekend adventure at some point in their lives. This is spite of the fact that just 12% of bosses encourage outdoor pursuits in the UK.

    • Peter Mandelson would be proud 😉

      • Ouch. You get my point though, I hope. Polls are designed for those who commission them.

        The interesting thing would be to see trends. How have those numbers changed over the years?

        Anecdotally, I know my Dad was active in the outdoors, fishing and walking, when he was an adult (40s onwards) but I’m not sure how many of those things he would have done as a child. On the other hand, I’m fairly certain that my mum did none of those things despite living in a rural mining village.

        It’s definitely easier to get outdoors now – look at the growing popularity of the Lakes.

        And there are definitely more hillwalkers now than ever before. More people doing sports like triathlon (swimming outdoors).

        I just don’t know if it’s “shocking” or “depressing”.

        • Yes – I do agree with you.

          But there were far more people out rambling and cycling in the 50’s at weekends than there are today. Although I do agree that numbers are certainly rising again.

        • You make a really good point. Trends are what’s needed to know what to make of these figures.

          Very interesting figures even on their own though.

        • I think the fact that there are more people out adventuring now is a symptom of a wider problem. People definitely spend more time sedentary and indoors now. Advenuring is a necessary antidote to that. The point is that outdoors adventure is an essential part of a well balanced healthy modern life not a trendy or eccentric add-on. We used to be forced to take excercise and go outside and take risks. Now we can drift through our lives without ever using our hands or breaking a sweat or without ever piercing the bubble of quotidean humdrum.

          • It’s a fact of modern life that more and more jobs are indoors, often in front of a computer all day. You have to make a conscious decision to get outdoors, get some exercise, have an adventure etc.

            I work in an IT-related field so the above definitely applies to me. It’s interesting just how many of the people I meet while cycling and scuba diving are also in IT – I think we have to get outdoors hard on weekends to compensate for the week stuck indoors.

  3. Catherine Handy Posted

    This is really depressing. Well done for raising things like this on your blog and not just doing “normal’ explorer stuff.

  4. As a postscript I thought that the comments may make a good dumping ground for any good articles you may find to illustrate any of the issues raised here.

    Write a sentence to describe it then paste your link. Cheers!

    Cost of obesity approaching $300 billion a year:

  5. I work in a team of 30 or so people in the heart of London. Out of that 30 or so I am the only person who regularly gets out into the outdoors. I am looked at in certain quarters as quite eccentric just because I choose to go camping, hiking, scrambling and Mountain Biking at weekends or while on leave.

    It amazes me with all of their education (most are degree graduates), the standard of ignorance currently being shown by so many of my colleagues towards outdoors pursuits. Although as stated many went onto University, it appears that very few ever experienced Outward Bounds weekends or camping trips from school to encourage a sense of adventure and the need to explore your surroundings.

    Britain needs to embrace the youth of today and make the outdoors an important part of education once again otherwise the next generation of 20 and 30 somethings will probably suffer from the same lethargy as so many of my sofa bound work colleagues do today and the statistics will continue to rise depressingly.

    • Neil Cowburn Posted

      I agree that there should be a grass-roots movement to encourage young people, ideally through the education system, to sieze the opportunities that outdoor pursuits affords them.

      A big roadblock to this is the increasingly letigious society that we live in makes taking kids into the great outdoors a health & safety nightmare. Not to mention growing distrust of anyone who wants to work with children — utter madness!

      Given these thoughts, I’m not surprised by those figures. Especially when you consider that people, in general, in the western world are lazy and apathetic towards anything that requires them to possibly break into a sweat.

      • I agree as well, but do these movements not already exist?! The Scouts/Girl Guides/ Seas Cadets et al, not to mention Duke of Edinburgh awards etc. As I raised in the Duke of Edinburgh post, the problem is actually manning these with volunteers willing to give up their time. Perhaps an idea for the micro-adventures being talked about could be to introduce other people to the outdoors- be they children, or another adult? Or to offer time to help on one of these groups expeditions?

        Linked to this, I also think a general ‘fear’ of the outdoors doesn’t help your general 9-5er get out there. I have been asked plenty of times ‘don’t you worry about getting lost/ falling off a cliff/etc’ and looked at very strangly when replying that ‘that’s part of the fun!’. Taking someone without that confidence along with you could help them convince not just themselves, but others as well, of the virtues.

        I certainly wouldn’t have started going out again had it not been for the friend who offered to spend time refreshing long forgotten map and compass skills.

        A Pay-it-forward/ Big Society style cry I know, but if those out there doing it already don’t take the lead, who else will?!

        • Neil Cowburn Posted

          You’re right — some movements do exist. I don’t think the organisations you listed are grass-roots. I, for one, was not allowed to join the DoE programme because my parents’ considered it too costly, which is a common argument for low income families.

          I really like the idea of the shared experience micro-adventure. This could work superbly as a springboard for getting adults involved in a more active lifestyle.

    • Stuart Grant Posted

      So the prediction of a world food shortage wont actually be a shortage of food to feed us, just too little to feed the glutenous western appitites!

  6. Pete Casey Posted

    I believe that having a tangible connection with the natural outdoor environment, physical excersise and positive interaction with other people is vital to our physical and mental wellbeing.
    I nominate you to be the Jamie Oliver of a new Outdoor pursuits revolution Al 🙂
    Your enthusiasm is inspiring infectious and admirable…keep up the good work mate.

    • “Jamie Oliver of a new Outdoor pursuits revolution” – is that a compliment?!

      Judging by the comments on this post there are plenty of people out there who feel like me. Perhaps I should focus this site more on being a platform for people’s voices and a catalyst for people to get on and DO…

  7. Admittedly not such a snappy headline, but I think what this really says is ‘Missing: the averagely fit middle’.

    There always has been and will be slobs and exercise/adventure ‘junkies’. People that do not need any inspiration for their particular lifestyle choice. I would even say more people are doing extreme stuff now. The problem is the middle group that need a rocket up the a*se every so often and are easily lost to the slobs in their early teens. Inspire them and you deserve a sainthood.

    Perhaps you need to decide whether to give would-be ‘junkies’ more opportunities or really go for the easily lost middle.

  8. I’ve been enjoying (and advocating) midweek sub 24 hour overnight cycle camping trips for some time. For more on S24O, listen to this interview with Grant Peterson on The Bike Show.

    Or just Google s24o

  9. Jim Hardy Posted

    Ever read ‘Last Child in the Woods’? One day there will be the last child who plays outside… after that, it’s all over 🙁

    In these sad times, let’s turn to some poetry:
    ‘I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.’ – Walt Whitman

  10. Eggnostriva Posted

    I can imagine this survey was taken in an urban enviroment. There are an enormous amount of people that do not live in cities and work in offices. I would be more suprised had this survey have taken place in a rural area, if they would have got the same numbers.

  11. I think Brits are coming out of their shells but the brits I am meeting still want to be wrapped up in cotton wool. Package holidays, tour rep, sue the travel company if my hotel does not serve an English breakfast!! That kind of thing. It is also interesting to know that I have not returned to the Uk in nine years now and every single Brit I met complains about life there. I wonder why that is?

  12. My jaw dropped. I’m not any type of outdoors kind of guy. Way fat, prefers to settle down with a book, rather stay inside. Yet, I’ve climbed Mt. Whitney (highest mountain in contiguous 48 US states, a walk really); swam in rivers, lakes and the ocean; ridden horses (OK, my grandparents were ranchers and I lived with them for a year); ridden a bicycle for up to 20 hours at a stretch …

    It doesn’t take much to step outdoors and keep going. This fat guy is proof.

  13. I think Natalie’s comment above is a bit of an exaggeration and not fair at all; You can’t generalise a country in to a few British people you know. I’m only young (21 next week) and I regularly climb, i’ve travelled to more countries than a lot of adults (27), i cycle, i run, I recently did the Yorkshire 3 peaks in 8 1/2 hours; a friend and I randomly decided to do it, drove 2 hours, arrived at 1 am, slept in the car and did it! I write a blog about adventure to encourage others in to it!

    There are plenty of us young outdoorsy people out there so I don’t think it has to be so gloomy an image! I can see that more people need to remain active but from what i’ve seen there are still plenty of outdoorsy people around in Britain. Cycling for one has shot up in popularity. Optimistically I don’t think the situation is as bad as it sounds. There will always be lazy people, it’s their decision at the end of the day!

    One thing I would say is that people my age are having to pay a lot to enjoy the outdoors – clothes, climbing gear, bikes etc etc; maybe this puts people off? I expect the reply that all you need is a pair of shoes but if you really want to enjoy the outdoors you do need to spend a hell of a lot on equipment and travel and i’ve had to work for it!

    Sorry for the rant!

    • Rants actively encouraged, Tom. Thanks a lot!
      Anyone interested in a young adventurer (yet another sentence that makes me feel old!) should have a look at Tom’s blog…

      • Thanks Al – People shouldn’t lose faith in British people as a whole! There are still young people like me who are really keen! Did you get the questions I e-mailed the other day?


        Exceed Possibility

        • I enjoyed poking around your blog, Tom. As an American, I am all too aware of how little people appreciate the outdoors around here, but it’s always nice to read some like minded people. I myself will be just doing a little wandering around the Lakes District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors a bit, in August when I am visiting friends. Very excited for it!

  14. People change. Not everybody wants to be active all their life. I did cubs, scouts, army from 1956 to 1971. Slowed up 1972 to 1989 raising a family on a low income. Stopped completely from 1990 to 2007 during which I changed career, saw my children into the big wide world, and paid a mortgage off. My weight ballooned and my health deteriorated but now I’m back. I’m slim, svelte, and wiser about best spend of my still low income.
    You worry too much. There is more space for the rest of us; those of us that do walk, ride and swim.
    Personally, I prefer my rides to have wheels. The legged ones have all been bad experiences. I only ever swim in the sea becauseI used to take school parties to the swimming baths. I’ve seen what goes in the water.
    Are you speaking in the West Mids (Western side) or Marches this year?



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