Green Gyms transform people’s health and wellbeing through participation in outdoor conservation activity. They are group-based, physically challenging and result in green spaces for the wider public benefit. Regular attendees increase their activity over time and so get fitter. They also develop a social, or ‘peer-support’ network, and have higher levels of contact with nature. This powerful combination helps them to develop resilience against mental and physical health problems and - through learning how to manage green space - new skills, knowledge and confidence.

How does a Green Gym work?

Sessions are in three-hour slots and take place at least once a week. Volunteers take part in practical environmental activities such as tree planting, community-allotment food growing and the maintenance of a wide variety of outdoor spaces. Unlike other conservation projects, the emphasis is very much on health and fitness - volunteers practice warm up and cool down exercises in preparation for what can be quite vigorous exercise and labour saving devices are lost in favour of more traditional tools and techniques. Participants are recommended by local health services or can self-refer. We have an organisation approach to support the transfer from direct delivery to community led. The process that ensures key milestones are achieved en route to sustainability. The license gives Groups the ability to use the Green Gym trademark, have an annual quality check and access training and impact reporting services from TCV. The Penge Green Gym in South London has gone through this process. Since going independent on 1 May 2013, they have maintained an average of 17 volunteers per session, and attracted 53 new volunteers. There is a core group of volunteers who formed a Steering Group which continues to drive their direction. For more, click here.

What’s the impact?

Taking part in a Green Gym is both enjoyable and effective. It has been endorsed by the Department of Health to have proven impacts on participants’ health, wellbeing and on their community spaces. We have developed strong evidence that demonstrates Green Gym’s effectiveness and captures the change in the participants:
  • Increased fitness: A weekly Green Gym session meets government recommended activity levels, and there is high retention of volunteers (an independent evaluation found 70% of participants still active after 6 months).
  • Better mental wellbeing: Independent evaluation of a mental-health focussed Green Gym have shown majority of volunteers showed improved mental health and increased wellbeing against validated measures.
  • Reduced isolation: A recent impact report from UCL shows a significant shift in participants’ motivation for volunteering over time to show people increasingly motivated by social factors, e.g. to meet more people, as opposed to fitness.
  • Tackling health inequalities: An evaluation by Oxford Brookes University found that the ‘worst off’ physically were nine times more likely to improve physical health the most. Similarly, participants with the lowest mental health scores at baseline were three times more likely to be the ones improving the most.
  • Cost reductions: Green Gym was cited in October 2014 in Natural England and UCL’s report ‘Natural Solutions to Tackling Health Inequalities’as “a cost-effective way to address health inequalities & produce positive health outcomes”. The New Economics Foundation explored cost savings aligned to health and wellbeing outcomes for a Green Gym participant as part of the national EcoMinds programme evaluation. Outcomes relating to cost savings were found through avoided prescription costs, fewer appointments, fewer diabetes complications and a reduction in the use of alcohol outpatient treatment. A Social Return on Investment reported a benefit cost of Green Gym activity.