Allotments are good for your health

We all know we ‘should’ be more active, but how much activity should we do and does gardening count?

Here we discuss the guidelines for physical activity and how gardening can have a positive effect on your physical and mental health.

The Department of Health follows the guidelines set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for activity levels.

It is recommended by adults should aim to be active daily. Over a week, activity should at up to at least 150 mins of moderate intensity activity in bouts of 10 minutes or more. One way to approach this is to do 30 mins on at least 5 days a week. Alternatively, comparable benefits can be achieved through 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity spread across the week or by combinations of moderate and vigorous intensity activity.

All adults should minimize the amount of time spent being sedentary (sitting) for extended periods and carry out some muscle strength exercises on at least 2 days per week. Recommendations for older adults are the same as those for adults aged 19-64. Older adults at risk of falls should incorporate physical activity to improve balance and coordination on at least two days a week.

We should all be more active

The percentage of adults reaching the recommended activity level goals in England UK was 67% for men and 55% for woman in 2015. This dropped to 36% (Men) and 18% (female) for the over 75 age group. Therefore lots of people in the UK don’t reach the basic target levels for good health. Physical inactivity was estimated to cost the NHS £900 million in 2009/2010.

Where does an allotment fit into this?

General gardening is a good way of being active! Depending on the type of activity, and your current level of fitness, your level of exertion will vary, but you do not need to have your heart-racing and be totally out of breath for the health benefits of exercise. If you imagine reaching a level of 5/10 then this is good work! A nice way to think about this is you can still talk, but would have trouble singing along to a song.

Your allotment can have a wide range of health benefits

A study published in the Journal of Public Health in October 2015 concluded that allotment gardening can play a key role in promoting mental well-being and could be used as a preventive health measure. Self-esteem, mood and general health were measured in a large group comparing allotment gardeners to non-gardeners. The scientists found that there was a significant improvement in self-esteem and mood as of the result of an allotment session. Allotment gardeners also experienced less depression and fatigue than non-gardeners.

Health benefits of allotment gardening:

  • Reduce your risk of major illnesses—decreasing the chance of heart problems, stroke, diabetes (type 2) and cancer by increasing your activity levels.
  • Exposes your sun to sunlight to help your body make enough Vitamin D (be careful about high levels of exposure in summer).
  • Reduce stress and promotes positive mental health.
  • Keep your joints mobile and your bones healthy.
  • A functional way of incorporating muscle strength exercises into your life without going to the gym.

For more information:
1. British Heart Foundation Physical Activity statistics
2. Wood, C. Pretty, J. Griffin, M (2015). A case-controlled study of the health and well-being of allotment gardening. J Public Health doi:10.1093/pubmed/fdv146
3.NHS Live well Guidelines for physical activity