Research Case Study

Impact: How we started the green exercise revolution ​

Our pioneering green exercise research has captured the interest of people around the world.

  • Tagged under

    Health and wellbeing

  • Lead Academics

    Dr Jo Barton
    Dr Carly Wood
    Dr Mike Rogerson

Green exercise was born at the University of Essex.


The benefits of exercise for both physical and mental health were well-known, as was contact with the natural environment having positive effects on mental well-being. In 2003, researchers at the University of Essex formally proposed linking the benefits of physical activity whilst at the same time being directly exposed to nature. This concept was coined ‘green exercise’ and initiated a rigorous scientific research programme which is continuing today.

It is a concept which has also captured the interest of people around the globe as a solution to improve mental wellbeing for all ages.



Thinking green, changing lives

Our Green Exercise Research Team includes specialists in physiology, health and well-being, environmental sustainability, community engagement and behaviour change. They have worked on a wide range of research projects from international-level reviews through to individual project analysis.

We've worked with national charities like Mind, RSPB, Social Farms and Gardens, and the Wildlife Trusts through to local charities and organisations such as Trust Links, Green Light Trust and the Wilderness Foundation

Cyclically informed by our academic publications, since 2020, our ongoing societal branch of the Green Exercise project aims to inform best practice and to generate positive impacts for partner organisations who provide green exercise programmes that seek to enhance public health and wellbeing and that of specific vulnerable groups (green exercise encompasses ecotherapy; nature-based programmes; wilderness therapy). In turn, indirectly, we also generate positive impacts for attendees of those programmes. For example, we recently partnered with Wilderness Foundation UK to codesign, pilot and evaluate a new, nature-based recovery programme for victim-survivors of domestic abuse. Our work on this led to the programme being commissioned for a further 3 years, at three programme cohorts per year.

"Essex green exercise research and rigorous evaluation process did not just inform the charity's goals; it enabled them to be funded [...] Approximately 50% of the Wilderness Foundation's overall income, which includes grants and activities, could not have been secured without University of Essex evidence"
Wilderness Foundation UK

Our work with organisations such as the Wildlife Trusts and Future Roots also impacted upon organisational policies and practices and contributed to the success of subsequent programme funding.

“ (The Green Exercise Research Group’s) research was a game changer, enabling both the Wildlife Trusts as a whole and individual Wildlife Trusts, together with their partners and service users, to achieve results through improving evidence, advocacy work, policy and practice in nature-based interventions for health and wellbeing which had hitherto not been possible and would not otherwise have been achieved”

“The University of Essex's research was hugely influential in the development of The Wildlife Trust's health and wellbeing strategy. The strategy’s framework is in those three pillars of everyday life, health promotion and green care as set out in the Essex reports [....]. Essex's 2017 report provided the evidence for development and implementation of the strategy” [S3]. It has also been used in The Wildlife Trust’s advocacy work “Essex’s 2017 report was our primary source of credible, independent, unequivocal evidence. [...] in The Wildlife Trust's advocacy work with DEFRA and with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport. The report and other work by the GE research team also provided the evidence for The Wildlife Trust’s response to the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan (February 2018). We also used the report in meetings when the plan was developed.”

- The Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts

“In Spring 2018, we were awarded GBP 140K by The Big Lottery Fund to run our Countrymen UK social franchising project”. This was their largest award to date. “We believe that our ability to evidence the efficacy of our original Countrymen’s Club project, via Essex’s report, and our own improved practices in line with its recommendations, were critical components that led to our Countrymen UK application’s success; feedback from the Big Lottery Fund indicated it to be highly unlikely that we would have achieved such a high level of funding to enable a UK-wide social franchising of our programme, without it.”

- Future Roots