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Gethin Jones on how outdoor exercise boosts his mental health

The TV presenter chats about his love of being active in the great outdoors, and why he draws the line at Ironman competitions. By Lisa Salmon.

(GO Outdoors/PA)

Although Gethin Jones admits he’s a city boy, the Cardiff-born TV presenter thrives on being active in the great outdoors.

And while he certainly does ‘ordinary’ exercise like running and cycling, this action man also loves outdoor swimming and triathlons, as well as competing in Hyrox fitness challenges involving running and functional movement.

“I’ve always been a city boy,” he says, “and then when we came up to Manchester to do Morning Live, I suddenly thought what am I doing? I can do the living in the city centre thing again, but I’ve just always loved being outdoors since I was a boy on my BMX, with my dad whistling like mad trying to get me back in. It’s like the roar of a lion, your dad’s whistle – you can hear it from anywhere!

“You don’t realise at the time how good being outside is for your mental health, it’s only when you get older. We talk about it loads now, and I’m actually realising how important it is for me, so I prioritise it now as much as I can. It’s just getting out, and that could be walking to the gym in the sun and I feel brilliant.”

Jones, 45, first found national fame with the long-running children’s BBC TV series Blue Peter, on which he was able to capitalise on his love of the outdoors by taking part in challenges including surviving the Bolivian jungle, becoming only the second civilian to finish the Royal Marine Commando 30-mile (48 km) Yomp in 2006, and climbing the highest peaks in each constituent country of the United Kingdom on successive days in 2008 for Sport Relief.

Jones says he was “privileged and fortunate” to have such great experiences on Blue Peter, which he left in 2008. And while he’s maintained his outdoor pursuits since leaving the show, including swimming in Salford Quay “which everyone thinks is nuts, but it’s actually really nice”, triathlons and Hyrox events, he’s drawn the line at taking part in Ironman competitions.

“I love exercise in general,” he says, “but my best friend, who I usually do triathlons with, has decided to do an Ironman this year, at which point I said no way am I doing that!

“I’ve got so much respect for them, but sometimes I just don’t have time for a coffee, let alone getting on a bike for four hours! But I do a variety of stuff, whether that’s outdoor swimming, being on the bike, or going for a run. I love gym stuff, and I love anaerobic CrossFit, without the Olympic lifting. Hyrox is something in between – it’s about mental health, but ultimately the reason I like triathlon-type exercise rather than the gym is because it’s outside.”

Jomes, who’s just become an ambassador for the North Ridge clothing brand, which he says is a “perfect fit” for his own active lifestyle, exercises at least four times a week, and backs up his fitness regime with a fairly healthy diet during the week, although he’s prepared to slacken the reins at weekends if necessary.

“I’ve always got this rule – I’m really good in the week,” he says. “I make good choices in the week and at the weekend if there’s Sunday roast or a burger on a Saturday, then there’s no rules with that. I’m not someone who’s strict seven days a week everything.

(GO Outdoors/PA)

“I do train hard and I’m good at hydration and stuff. Working in a TV studio there’s pretty much pastry everywhere you walk, so you have to be quite disciplined. But I bring my own oats in every day and it’s a good start, and then I try and eat some decent lunch and I’m always good in the evening. But at the weekend I try not to make so many rules.”

He doesn’t drink alcohol a lot either, but admits: “I’m not a massive drinker, but Six Nations, don’t get me wrong, I might have had a few – being a Welsh boy down in Cardiff it’s hard not to! But generally, I’m pretty good. I don’t love drinking, but I love seeing my mates on a night out. I’m not someone who has a beer at night or a glass of wine at home though.”

Another part of Jones’ healthy lifestyle is walking, which he says he started doing more of during the pandemic, and has kept up. If he can walk with a dog, so much the better, but he hasn’t got a four-legged friend of his own because he’s so busy with work he doesn’t think it would be fair.

“Oh my god, I’m so close to getting one,” he exclaims. “I live on my own in South Manchester, and I travel a bit because of work, so I’ve got to be fair, but I’m almost practising on Monty my friend’s dog – he gets so excited when I see him, and he always wees on me. He’s a cockerlabrapoo-type thing – a cockapoo, he’s so much fun, and he’s great company.”

But until he’s in a position to get his own pooch, Jones is keeping his legs very busy, not least with the 24-hour Comic Relief Strictly Fitness Dancing Challenge he successfully completed last month, which raised an incredible £1.3 million.

“What an experience – it was amazing,” he says. “We did 24 hours of live, unscripted telly, and we got away with it. I danced to 532 songs, wore four different costumes, burned 11,500 calories and travelled 103 kilometres, so two marathons, dancing.

“I couldn’t get down the stairs the next day, but I really couldn’t care less. I was walking like I’d got something stuck somewhere that shouldn’t have got stuck. But that pain just paled into insignificance based on what was raised. It was such an emotional experience and we were blown away by people’s generosity.”

He says he found it “easy” to keep going because of the supportive messages and donations that were flooding in, although he admits: “The last few hours after being up for 24 hours were not nice, you know? And you’re still moving!”

And after he finished, he reveals: “Oh my god, I haven’t been that emotional since Konnie Huq waxed my chest live on Blue Peter. There was a lot of waterworks. But, you know, I’m not someone who can help it, I was just so blown away.”

But would he do it again?

“Yeah, I probably would, actually – only because it’s helped so many. I’m a glutton for punishment!”

Gethin Jones is an ambassador for North Ridge clothing and footwear, available at GO Outdoors, Blacks and Millets.



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