With local restrictions and the shorter days of winter leaving many of us feeling cooped up and isolated, now is the time to mix up your exercise regime to give your wellbeing a boost.
The unpredictable weather can make it tempting to stay inside during the shorter days, but it’s important for our wellbeing to stay active and get a regular dose of fresh air. Going for a run can be a perfect way to get outside, shake off the cobwebs, and reconnect to nature!
The mental health benefits
Running on trails outdoors can improve your mental wellbeing, social inclusion and help to alleviate the winter blues. Around 1 in 3 people in the UK suffer from seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that usually occurs during the winter months and can leave people with a persistent low mood (1).
Depression and anxiety cost the UK an estimated £70-£100 million a year , and studies have shown that spending as little as two hours a week in nature is an effective strategy for maintaining good mental health (3).
Ellen Devine, Wellbeing Projects Manager at Forestry England, said:
Skipping the gym in favour of a run or walk in the forest is a perfect opportunity to get on the path to fitness while also getting fresh air, recharging from the day and taking in the sights and sounds of nature. Spending time outdoors is a win-win for our bodies and our minds.
Why run in the forest?
Running in nature can give your mental health a boost and can also benefit your physical health. Our forest trails provide a softer surface for your joints, meaning fewer injuries, and they also keep you on your toes. With more natural obstacles, running in the forest means you need to concentrate more, watch where you go and keep good balance. These added elements will help you develop those much-needed leg muscles and help you tone and strengthen your legs.
Running outdoors will make your body work harder and will help you to get in better shape quickly. It’s time to get off the treadmill and into the forest!
Our recommended trails
We’ve pulled together the top forest running trails to keep you moving over Christmas, as recommended by our Active Forest Coordinators. We have trails for all levels, so even if you're brand new to running, or returning to it after a break, our forests will provide the perfect backdrop.
Recommended by Jo Pappenheim
This is the perfect circular 5K route for a run. Starting at our running map close to Go Ape, follow the pink waymarkers as the route takes you away from the busy Visitor Centre into tranquil forest. The trail mostly follows all weather forest tracks but there are a few muddy sections for added enjoyment.
Keep your eyes open for a glimpse of deer through the trees as you run under the canopy of sweet chestnuts and our native scots pine. There are some challenging up hills to begin with, but also some glorious downhill sections too and don’t forget to say hello to the Gruffalo as you finish.
Recommended by Paul Ashford
The 5K Route starts at Adderstone field 4.5 miles into the forest from the Visitor Centre. It is a circular 5km loop that takes in a number of forest blocks from pine to birch, beech to fir.
It is an undulating course that uses footpaths, forest roads and grass rides, a trail runners paradise especially for those wanting to progress from couch to 5km and parkrun.
Recommended by Clare Curtis
Beginning with the other waymarked running trails, the 2km route is a level and surfaced trail into the forest, returning along the Mallards Pike Family Cycle Trail link path. The route is a great step up from the shorter Lakeside path.
Sign up for our active updates packed with tips on staying active and finding forest adventures!
Recommended by Sonia Dryden
A challenging circular route which has an additional mini loop at the top. You'll find yourself running mainly on wide forest roads with one short section on a forest path.
As you climb your way to 'Bob's Seat' you'll be rewarded with spectacular views to Derwentwater, Keswick, Skiddaw and the surrounding mountain ranges and you may even catch a glimpse of a red squirrel or roe deer. After all that climbing you will be rewarded with a long gentle descent all the way to the finish.
Recommended by Demi Smith
A short run along the forest access road means a solid, flat surface underfoot to start, that later leads onto a beautiful tree lined avenue.
This route will also take you past the Elephant Pond – named after the giant creatures that used to bathe in the pond during World War II. For your final stretch you are back on the forest road with an opportunity for a final sprint to finish.
The nation’s forests, car parks and essential facilities are open to you for outdoor recreation and exercise. We should all be trying to reduce how much and how far we travel and spending time or exercising outdoors should be done locally. Make sure you plan-ahead and follow the latest national restrictions for travel, outdoor spaces, and meeting people from outside your household.
1: The Weather Channel and YouGov research – 2014
2: O’Brien Liz, Ambrose-Oji Bianca, Wheeler Benedict, "Mental health and wellbeing: The contribution of trees and forests to diverse populations in Britain", Santé Publique, 2019/HS1 (Special issue), p. 163-171. DOI: 10.3917/spub.190.0163.