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Set yourself a get-fit challenge

Signing up for a sporting challenge can be a great way to boost your motivation to exercise regularly, especially over winter. So explains Jonathan Turner, Head of Content at timeoutdoors.com, a website that helps people of all ages and abilities spend more time outdoors and lead healthier and happier lifestyles:

Whatever your fitness level – and even if you are just finding your feet again after a health problem – there’s bound to be an event or activity for you.

From fun runs to marathons, family walks to mountain climbs, and local rides to epic cycling trips around the world, there’s something for everyone. And if you want to do your challenge for charity and be part of a bigger cause, you’ll not only be achieving a personal goal but be helping others as well. There’ll be training advice and fundraising expertise from the charity, as well as the camaraderie and support of like-minded individuals, both in the build-up to your challenge and on the day itself. Indeed, lifelong friendships are often made.

So rather than go into exercise hibernation as soon as the nights draw in, pick your challenge and start training.

Having that target in the diary makes such a fundamental difference. You’ll feel fitter and healthier within weeks, be ahead of the pack when new year resolutions come round, and reap further rewards throughout 2017 and beyond.

What’s more, you can track your progress in our goals section, helping you structure your training while providing a record to look back on when you’ve accomplished your challenge.

Hundreds of people have done this already on timeoutdoors.com, and the individual stories are inspirational.

Andy Crozier from Telford is just one example. Now in his early 40s, he told us that just three years ago he “was unfit and weighed nearly 20 stone”. He then took up taekwondo and running, since then he has progressed through 10K events up to marathons and in the process lost six stone and raised money for his chosen charities.

So if you are ready to start your journey to fitness, here are a few ideas:

1. Have fun running

If you’ve not run before, then building up to a 5K is a challenge in itself, but can be achieved in six to ten weeks. And whatever the distance, running should be fun – there are plenty of Halloween- and Santa-themed events later this year. Or how about a mud run or obstacle race? And even when you step up the distance, many of the biggest mass-participation events take place in a carnival atmosphere, with plenty for the whole family to do on the day itself.

2. Walk your way to fitness

The lower intensity of walking puts less strain on the body but doesn’t diminish the health benefits. And the UK has a stunning range of landscapes to explore on foot. Charity walks can be anything from short rambles to ascents of our highest mountains, including the popular Three Peaks Challenges. And if you’d like to tread further afield, the options are endless – how about walking part of the Great Wall of China or conquering Mount Kilimanjaro?

3. See the world on two wheels

Challenge rides are an excellent opportunity to cycle with others on well-marked routes, sometimes on roads that are closed especially for the day, such as the Etape Caledonia in the Scottish Highlands, or RideLondon, which allows you to see the capital’s great sights from an entirely different traffic-free perspective. And if you are looking for a multi-day ride, the iconic London to Paris event could be just the ticket – you can even time it to watch the last stage of the Tour de France when you get there.

It’s not just running, walking or riding: you can take to the water with swims and rows, combine everything with a triathlon, or even head upwards – and then down – with abseils and skydives.

Don’t worry if it’s a few years since you last ran or cycled – with the right advice and preparation you’ll soon be back up to speed. It’s all part of the challenge and what makes it so memorable and life-changing.

And if you want a kick-start to your preparation, consider a warm-weather training camp over winter. Far from being just for elite athletes, they can be the perfect learning environment for returning to exercise or starting a new activity.

Above all, do take that first step – it’s often the hardest one*.

Visit timeoutdoors.com/benenden for more information on upcoming challenges.

*Although moderate physical activity is safe for most people, health experts suggest that you consult your doctor before starting an exercise program, especially if you have a history of heart disease, asthma, lung disease or diabetes.