11 fab ways to keep fit in Devon for free

A dark-haired woman running with sun peeping through the woods behind her.

Runners are spoilt for choice of routes in Devon. - Credit: StockSnap

NHS Health and Wellbeing Coach LAURA HILTON shares her favourite ways Devonians can keep fit for free 

As the days get longer and the temperatures rise many look to get more active, and luckily in Devon we are blessed with so many ways to do that without having to spend a penny. Here are some of my favourites: 

1. Walking 

However far you want to walk and whether you want a costal hike, to explore a forest, summit a tor or explore a beautiful town, Devon has it all. You can walk solo, join up with friends or family or join one of the many walking groups in Devon, one of which is the free group Walking For Health.  

A woman on a red dress riding a bike.

Keep fit and explore at the same time on your bike. - Credit: Pixabay

2. Cycling 

Now we know that you do need access to a bike to be able to go cycling, but once you have one you are free to explore hundreds of miles of National Cycle Network routes including the Tarka Trail, Granite Way and the Exe Estuary Trail. There is of course also plenty of places for mountain biking including Dartmoor, Haldon Forest and Plymbridge Woods.  

3. Running 

Whether you want to jog along the Dart looking out for seals and kingfishers, to incorporate some epic hills along the coastal path or to squelch between Dartmoor’s tors, there are a multitude of running routes to explore in Devon. Of course, you can run by yourself, with friends or family, but if you would prefer to run with others you can do that for free in Devon too. There are now almost ten free parkrun events taking place across Devon every week, and several RunTalkRun sessions taking place weekly in locations such as Totnes, Kingsbridge and Exeter.

A woman stepping into the river to go swimming.

Wild swimming boasts numerous health benefits. - Credit: Laura Hilton

4. Swimming 

Wild swimming has most definitely increased in popularity in recent years, and fortunately we have plenty of wonderful places to take a dip in Devon. There are secluded coves, deep river pools, busy beaches and even the odd disused quarry to submerge ourselves in. As long as swimmers choose to splash about safely, the mental, physical and social benefits of this glorious activity have proven to be incredibly enriching.  

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5. Outdoor gyms 

There are many people who find traditional gyms at best unappealing and at worst intimidating. Luckily there are now numerous outdoor gyms that allow us to get a good workout without having to pay a penny or set foot in a leisure centre. The equipment is always located in communal spaces such as parks and seafront areas, has information about how to use it and can help users work on both their strength and their cardiovascular fitness. Plymouth, Newton Abbot, Barnstaple, Cullompton, Cranbrook and Exmouth all boast their own free outdoor gyms.   

A woman and a man doing outdoor exercise.

Workout together at a free outdoor exercise class. - Credit: Vlada Karpowich from Pexels

6. Outdoor exercise classes 

Many people find joining class a more enjoyable way to exercise. Fortunately, now there are outdoor classes taking place in parks in Exeter and Torquay that people can take part in for free, thanks to Freemoovement.  

7. Bouldering  

With many a rocky expanse in Devon, there are plenty of options for those who enjoy a bit of bouldering. There are of course important safety considerations to take into account, but so long as you do you can get a great full-body strengthening workout scrambling up and down the rocks of Devon.  

8. Tennis 

There are now several places in Devon to play tennis without having to pay a penny, thanks to Tennis for Free. With offerings in Exeter, Plymouth and Ivybridge, this brilliant organisation offers weekly two-hour tennis sessions for absolutely nothing.  

Footsteps on a beach.

Delight in a morning beach run. - Credit: Laura Hilton

9. Beach sports 

Our wonderful beaches lend themselves to a whole host of activities from rounders to cricket to football to swimming and bouldering (when safe to do so). As long as you are mindful of tides, currents and weather conditions you can spend many an hour being active on a beach.  

10. Geocaching  

Geocaching turns an ordinary walk into an exciting treasure hunt, and all you need to do it is to download an app that points you in the direction of geocaches near you. The geocache itself could contain information about the area it’s in, natural objects or even toys left by fellow geocachers.  

11. Combine forces 

A great way to make any activity more enjoyable is by doing it with friends or family. Arranging to exercise with someone else can make you more likely to turn up, make exercising more fun and can also take your mind off your hard work.  

Water in a quarry on Dartmoor.

Haytor Quarry is a unique place for a dip. - Credit: Laura Hilton

Tips for safe splashing 

There are many health benefits to wild swimming, but there are risks involved so it’s important to approach it cautiously, as seasoned swimmer Pauline Barker explains: "Choose your spot carefully, pay attention to what the water is up to and any potential hazards before getting in carefully.”  

Pauline adds: “Do not jump in. Acclimatise, don’t spend too long in cold water and get out before you start to feel chilly. If you’re swimming in a river plan your entrance and exit spots. If you're swimming in tidal areas plan your swims around tide times.” 

Keep those things in mind and you are sure to benefit hugely from wild swimming.  

Running through your mind 

Run Talk Run (RTR) is a free 5km run for all abilities and is a safe supportive space to talk about how you really are, as Totnes run leader Emily Watson explains: “RTR exists to help make mental health support less intimidating and more accessible. 

“The sessions are not about how fast you can run. We maintain a pace that everyone can manage and of course we like to chat along the way. Opportunities are created before and during the runs for people to talk, if they want to, but there is no pressure to. RTR hosts events in Kingsbridge, Exeter, Totnes and Braunton.”