Ground-breaking study explores gardening as exercise

  • Date

    Mon 14 Mar 22

A participant in the study plants a bulb

If gardening could count as exercise is being scientifically probed in a ground-breaking University of Essex study.

Ground-breaking study explores gardening as exercise

Researchers are looking to see how much energy is used on day-to-day jobs such as weeding, watering and bulb-planting - which could be compared to gym workouts, five-a-side football and jogging on a treadmill.

Using gas analysis, heart rate monitors, accelerometers and simple surveys, volunteers, staff and service users at Together We Grow Community Interest Company, in Colchester, are being tested to see how strenuous it is.

This is one of the first times this toolkit has been used in a real-world working garden – as they are often used to measure athletes as they push themselves to the limit in training.

Depending on the findings, the study could change perceptions of horticulture and how it could count towards activity guidelines.

It was launched in winter and will continue into Spring as the plants bloom and the seasons change.

Research officer Dr Robert Southall-Edwards from the School of Sport, Rehabilitation, and Exercise Sciences is leading the study.

He said: “If we can show that some of the activities that people regularly do in the garden count towards their weekly exercise targets, then they could consider popping into the garden instead of going to the gym.

“That might encourage more people to pick up a trowel, watering can or spade in their free time and secure more funding for community schemes.

“This is the first time I’m aware that this high-tech athletic equipment has been taken into a garden and we are really excited to see what we might find.”

The research has been welcomed by the team at Together We Grow CIC, which operates from a two-acre edible garden and orchard site within High Woods Country Park as well as community and educational gardens in primary schools.

The NHS-funded social enterprise aims to improve lives through engagement with nature, working communally, and educating people on how to lead physically and mentally healthier, happier and more sustainable lives.

Refugee communities, people currently experiencing poor mental health, and school groups, all benefit from sessions engaging with nature, organic food, and community at these green spaces.

Together We Grow founder Wayne Setford said: “Here at Together We Grow we know how transformational and important gardening is and we are excited to work with The University of Essex with this study.

“There are so many benefits to spending time outdoors and eating a natural diet, but so little is known about the physical exercise benefits of gardening.

“Here at Together We Grow we welcome people of all ages and from across the world into our garden and we see its benefits every single day.

“Anyone who has ever spent an afternoon weeding or reseeding a lawn knows that gardening can be a good work out and we can’t wait to see the results.”

The research is the latest in the University’s agenda-setting Green Exercise research project.

This has seen academics see how nature affects physiology, health and well-being, environmental sustainability, community engagement, and behaviour change.

For more than 18-years academics have worked on a wide range of schemes and partners such as Mind, RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts through to Care Farming UK and the Wilderness Foundation.