Shortly before I moved to Brighton, I read an article about the restorative power of blue spaces compared to green spaces, and “why time spent near water is the secret of happiness”. The writer offers a number of positive benefits to living on the coast. There is more sunlight, for example, and less air pollution; people who live by water tend to be more physically active; we head to the beach to spend quality time with friends and family; and, generally, when we’re by the sea, we are getting what Dr Sian Rees, a marine scientist at the University of Plymouth, calls “health by stealth” – enjoying the outdoors, and interacting with our physical environment.
In terms of green spaces, the Japanese nature therapy shinrin-yoku – forest bath – has always appealed to me but, walking along the sea front between Hove and Brighton this week, I have enjoyed a blue space equivalent. I’m calling it the ‘Brighton Bath’.
When I arrived in Brighton in the winter, and first started my early morning commute, I noticed immediately that Brightonians take their physical exercise veryseriously. Even in the dark days of January, my cycle ride would take me through an army of boot camps; I would pass gaggles of cold-water swimmers, joggers, and walkers, but, as we have gradually eased out of lockdown, the keep-fit craze has exploded. One of the positive effects of lockdown is that it has encouraged us be more creative about how we exercise; we have reaffirmed the importance of outdoor spaces.
Inspired by my virtual field trip to Antarctica with Ms Pearson this week, during which 8G and I did a tally chart of the different animals we identified, I decided to do a mental tally of all the physical activities happening on the Brighton & Hove seafront at 7.45am on a single morning. In addition to the old favourites, like running, walking, cycling, there were paddle-boarders, surf-boarders, body-boarders, sea-swimmers, and tai-chi-ers. There were at least two outdoor circuit training sessions, three yoga sessions, people fishing, a young boy doing time trials (and taking it very seriously) – and then there was the ‘Back-to-the-Future’ brigade: those travelling by electric scooter, Segway, hover-board or, the new-kit-on-the-block, the electric unicycle.
Much as I would expect to feel after a forest bath, my daily Brighton Bath leaves me feeling energised. After a brisk 35-minute walk, I arrive at work having been completely immersed in endorphins (both my own and other people’s?), and thoroughly inspired by the variety of physical activities on display, as well as the sheer sense of fun. What is even more exciting is how this fits into our plans for Autumn Term sport at Brighton Girls. In world where social distancing precludes the habitual team sports and competitive matches, creative solutions are needed. It will take a little while longer before we will see students jumping on mini-bus for a hockey fixture, or passing a netball to a team-mate. However, as with so many aspects of the Covid crisis, we have spotted an opportunity.
I have enjoyed exploring all the options with Nicci Plank and Niki Mostram over the last two weeks, and we are looking forward to making the most of all our blue spaces and green spaces, with a range of individual fitness and wellbeing activities on offer. Everything, from a bracing walk by the sea, to Zumba and yoga, is being explored – and this is more than simply “health by stealth”, as we intend to provide activities that will not only improve core fitness levels for team sports, but will develop strategies for wellness and positive mental health that will stay with our students long after the Covid crisis is over.
As for me, what Brighton Bath would be complete without a paddle board?
I have signed up for my first lesson this weekend.