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 Academic

    Dr Jo Barton

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.

But in 2003, researchers at the University of Essex formally proposed linking the benefits of adopting 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 and the Wildlife Trusts through to Care Farming UK and the Wilderness Foundation. Our research has a real impact. For example, our work was key to a successful Big Lottery bid by Mind which led to Ecominds, a £7.5 million, five-year programme supporting 130 environmental projects which have improved the mental health of participants.

Dr Jo Barton, from the School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences, said: “Having had the privilege of engaging with multiple external partners, I have experienced first-hand the remarkable impact participating in nature-based activities has on the health and wellbeing of community groups, especially those vulnerable cohorts who benefit the most.”

“The robustness of Essex’s findings contributed to the 2007 Ecotherapy report’s use in supporting a successful Big Lottery funding bid, to develop ‘Ecominds’. Since 2008 this £7.5m, five-year program has facilitated 130 environmental projects nationwide, designed to promote mental health via green activity engagement."
Gavin Atkins Mind

These projects have introduced people with, and at risk of developing, mental health problems to green exercise initiatives such as gardening, food growing or environmental conservation work.

This has helped more than 12,000 people living with mental ill-health to get involved in green activities to improve confidence, self-esteem and their physical and mental health so they can then return to work and reduce feelings of social isolation.

“I didn’t even know there was a nature reserve near where I lived and I didn’t think that nature could help me in my situation. I tried it though, and now, looking back, if I hadn’t joined the project, I definitely wouldn’t be here,” said ex-serviceman Wayne Franks.