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Gardening Works via @ThriveCharity

Gardening Works!


Here at Thrive, we have experience of how beneficial gardening can be for people with all kinds of difficulties.  However, the good news is that gardening has been shown to be good for everyone else too.

Typically, gardening comprises a range of tasks each of which is made up of a variety of movements.  This variety results in a good general work out for the whole body, with less strain being put on particular muscle groups than, for example, in the gym. This is helpful in preventing or improving illnesses like coronary heart disease which benefit from both the arms and legs being exercised.  One advantage of gardening as exercise is that it improves manual dexterity and strength, when compared with swimming or jogging, for example.

Gardening can be carried out at a steady comfortable pace which means there will be less chance of injury compared to many sports activities, where there is a greater chance of injury due to sudden movement.

An hour of steady gardening equates to walking five miles or taking 10,000 steps.  Moderate intensity exercise such as gardening can reduce the risk for heart disease, stroke, depression, osteoporosis, hypertension, obesity, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer and premature death, if carried out for at least 2.5 hours per week.

Stress can be thought of as only affecting mood, but also has a range of physical effects including gastrointestinal illnesses, skin diseases, increased chance of heart attacks, hypertension and stroke, and compromised immune system function leading to greater incidence of infections, and autoimmune disorders. As stated above, using gardening as a moderate intensity exercise can reduce the impact of stress.  One study found that gardening improved mood and reduced cortisol levels, promoting ‘…relief from acute stress’. Another study, in Holland, found that gardening reduced cortisol levels more than reading a book, when carried out after completing a stressful activity.

Other research has shown that older people are more likely to continue with gardening as a form of exercise compared with going to the gym or swimming as it is interesting over a longer time period.  There is a fascination in the processes of nature.  Because gardening takes place outside, gardeners are also exposed to sunlight and the vitamin D that this produces.  Some recent research also found that exposure to the soil bacteria Mycobacterium vaccae can alleviate the symptoms of asthma, psoriasis and other allergies, and also depression.

Gardening enables you to grow healthy fruit and vegetables and use these in the kitchen, improving the quality of your diet and therefore your health.

A less expected benefit of gardening was discovered by an Austrian study.  Researchers found that moderate exercise such as 30-45 minutes of gardening each week (1000 calories) reduced cases of impotence by 38%.

Thrive is the leading charity in the UK that uses gardening to bring about positive changes in the lives of people who are living with disabilities or ill health, or are isolated, disadvantaged or vulnerable.  This is known as Social and Therapeutic Horticulture.  Our experience has been that gardening can help everyone to become heathier.  We work with people with a range of physical and mental challenges and find that gardening offers a unique range of opportunities to improve people’s lives in five key areas:

Improved physical health, strength and mobility.

Improved mental health, mood and confidence.

Closer connections to other people.

‘Passive restoration’ from being in nature – the ‘Biophilia effect’.

The opportunity to learn new things and take qualifications. 

Ian came to Thrive following a stroke that left him paralysed and unable to work or look after himself.  His association with Thrive helped his recovery, and Ian has delivered talks and was involved in the creation of our Carry on Gardening website.  Ian is enthusiastic about the part gardening has played in his recovery:

"Four years after my stroke I was nominated for and won a ‘Life after stroke’ award, which is a scheme run by the Stroke Association. This was for the way I rebuilt my life within the community. I keep the award, which is a sculpture of a butterfly made by a previous award winner, next to my computer where I can see it to remind me how far I’ve come.

“I am now a firm believer that therapy through gardening is a powerful tool. It helped me to accept the fact that I had suffered a stroke and come to terms with it. It helped me to learn to live again.”

Many thanks to Ian and all at Thrive for sharing their story and passion!

Find out more about Thrive:







Blog moderated by Ann Gates, CEO of Exercise Works and a keen gardener since the age of 6!!


Exercise and #WorldAsthmaDay

Exercise and Asthma: what patients' need to know.

Check out Paula Radcliffe on Asthma.




Provision of physical activity for people with Huntington’s disease: inclusivity, diversity and fairness for all.  

BLOG by Katy Hamana for Active HD www.activehd.co.uk  and @Active_HD      

In the first post for this blog by ‘Active HD’ we highlight the need for better physical activity provision in Huntington’s disease (HD) and why. First, a two minute guide to HD… 

The devastating impact of Huntington’s disease (HD) has been referred to as a “spectre” hanging over families living in its shadow1. The stigma associated with such a genetic disease causes isolation from society in general and within families, compromising quality of life and wellbeing for people with HD2. Ongoing health and social care is required to support the challenging and changing needs of those with HD. It is vital that every opportunity is available equally for people with HD to maintain quality of life for as long as possible.

One way of achieving this is through participation in physical activity. Maintaining fitness and physical function from early on in the disease process is vital to maintain quality of life in HD and is especially important given the duration of the disease and known burden on healthcare services. Ongoing efforts to define physiotherapy interventions3, validate outcome measures 4 and conduct robust evaluations of targeted physiotherapy led and community based exercise interventions 5-11 have shown that people with HD can achieve fitness and measurable functional benefit from specific exercise training. Indeed community and home based exercise interventions have been shown to be enjoyable and acceptable for people with HD.

Sustained engagement in meaningful activities is vital in HD where quality of life both in terms of physical and psychosocial well-being, are severely affected. To sustain an active lifestyle, support and adaptation are important, so that when changes occur, people are equipped with strategies and have appropriate support to deal positively with their changing abilities in a way that enables them to continue to be active for as long as possible.

Unfortunately experiences of people with HD across the UK in trying to access support and information to be more active suggests that there is there is inconsistency of provision for physical activity within the healthcare system and local council leisure services8. The specific needs of people with HD across the different stages means that the nature of required support differs as found in the research conducted over the last 6 years by the Cardiff HD Physiotherapy Group.  

At grass roots level, there is much work happening in developing supportive resources for people to access online as well as engaging people in the emerging research related to physical activity in HD. However, if the policies and infrastructure are not in place to support people to be active, then participation for people with HD is always going to be challenging. In addition to the already complex issues people with HD face, such an environment is not conducive to sustained, regular physical activity.  Consequences of physical inactivity in terms of cost in HD have not been explored. However mean annual costs per person in the early stage of disease were £2,250, rising to £89,760 in the later stages of the disease. The average cost across all stages was £21,605 per year. This equates to £195 million per year in the UK12. As would be expected with a degenerative condition, quality of life declines and mean costs increase with disease severity. The increase in costs for patients in the later stages of the disease is significant, presenting the case for investing. Investment in care and support, including physiotherapy and physical activity for people in the earlier stages of HD to keeps them functioning as well as possible for as long as possible.

Although it may be more challenging and resource intensive to support people with HD to be active this does not mean that they have less equal rights to such support than other populations. In fact, by prolonging function for longer, savings could be made through less access of healthcare services over the lifespan of the disease. Many current supportive (online) resources for physical activity and exercise referral schemes in long term and chronic conditions are not inclusive of HD. This serves to highlight the inequality in provision of physical activity for people with HD.

Check out these simple exercises for people with movement disorders, such as HD.

In order to achieve inclusivity of people with rarer conditions such as HD there needs to be a shift in the approach to provision of physical activity where diversity of relevant services within, and linked to the healthcare system is strived for.



  1. Maxted C, Simpson J, Weatherhead S. An Exploration of the Experience of Huntington’s Disease in Family Dyads: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. J Genet Couns. 2014; 23(3):339-49.
  2. Wexler A. Stigma, history, and Huntington’s disease. Lancet. 2010; 376(9734), pp.18–9.
  3. Busse-Morris M, Khalil H, Quinn L, Brooks SP, Rosser AE. Practice, progress and future directions for physical therapies in Huntington’s disease. J Huntingtons Dis. 2012; 1(2):175-851.
  4. Quinn L, Khalil H, Dawes H, Fritz NE, Kegelmeyer D, Kloos AD, et al. Reliability and minimal detectable change of physical performance measures in individuals with pre-manifest and manifest Huntington disease. Phys Ther. 2013; 93, 942–956.
  5. Khalil H, Quinn L, van Deursen R, Dawes H, Playle R, Rosser A, Busse M. What effect does a structured home-based exercise programme have on people with Huntington’s disease? A randomized, controlled pilot study. Clin. Rehabil. 2013; 27, 646–58.
  6. Khalil H, Quinn L, van Deursen R, Martin R, Rosser A, Busse M. Adherence to use of a home-based exercise DVD in people with Huntington disease: participants’ perspectives. Phys. Ther. 2012; 92, 69–82.
  7. Busse M, Quinn L, Debono K, Jones K, Collett J, Playle R et al. A randomized feasibility study of a 12-week community-based exercise program for people with Huntington’s disease. J. Neurol. Phys. Ther. 2013; 37, 149–58.
  8. Quinn L, Trubey R, Gobat N, Dawes H, Edwards RT, Jones C et al. Development and Delivery of a Physical Activity Intervention for People With Huntington Disease: Facilitating Translation to Clinical Practice. J. Neurol. Phys. Ther. 2016; 40, 1–10.
  9. Quinn L, Hamana K, Kelson M, Dawes H, Collett J, Townson J et al. A randomized, controlled trial of a multi-modal exercise intervention in Huntington’s disease. Submitted Parkinsonism and Parkinsonism and Related Disorders.
  10. Cruickshank TM, Thompson JA, Domínguez DJF, Reyes AP, Bynevelt M et al. The effect of multidisciplinary rehabilitation on brain structure and cognition in Huntington's disease: an exploratory study. Brain and behaviour. 2015; 5(2)p.e00312
  11. Clark D, Danzl MM & Ulanowski E. Development of a community-based exercise program for people diagnosed and at-risk for Huntington’s disease: A clinical report. Physiotherapy Theory & Practice. 2016; 32(3) 232-9
  12. Jones C, Busse M, Quinn L et al. The societal cost of Huntington’s disease: are we underestimating the burden? Submitted, European Journal of Neurology.


Blog moderated by Ann Gates, CEO Exercise Works!