Just half an hour a week spent down the allotment provided a work out for both body and brain, a new study suggested.
Even just a small amount of time pottering around an allotment boosted feelings of both self-esteem and mood, by weeding out tension, depression, anger, and confusion.
The improvement didn’t depend on either the amount of time spent allotment gardening in the particular session, or how long the participants had been doing allotment gardening.
Sports and exercise scientist Dr Carly Wood at Essex University explained: “Participants who attend an allotment for a short period just once per week can experience a similar magnitude of improvements in self-esteem and mood as participants who attend more regularly for longer periods of time.”
And those who had an allotment were also in better shape with a significantly lower body mass index than those who did not participate in gardening.
The Universities of Westminster and Essex study found nearly seven in ten non-gardeners were overweight or obese compared to just under half – 47 per cent – of gardeners.
Researchers found the impact was across all classes and called for allotments to perform a role in cutting back the growing cost caused by lack of exercise and obesity on the NHS
Dr Wood added allotment gardening “could contribute to a greener and healthier economy focused on the prevention of ill-health. This preventative approach could result in substantial savings to the UK economy, particularly in the treatment of health conditions such as mental illness, obesity, cardiovascular disease and loneliness.
“Health organisations and policy makers should consider the potential of allotment gardening as a long-term tool for combatting ill-health.
“Local public authorities should seek to provide community allotment plots to allow residents to have regular opportunities to partake.”
The study published in the Journal of Public Health questioned 269 participants, both allotment gardeners from ten allotment sites in North West England and non-gardeners to determine the effect of allotment gardening on self-esteem and mood.
These two are key indicators of mental well-being and long-term disease risk.
The individuals filled out a questionnaire before and after the allotment sessions which included questions on self-esteem and enjoyment, as well as data such as BMI.
They were also asked questions on length of time they spent doing allotment gardening.
Professor John Ashton, President of the UK Faculty of Public Health added: “For too long, the stigma and shame wrongly associated with mental illness has contributed to unhelpful notions about treating physical and mental health separately.
“We cannot have good physical health without also looking after our mental wellbeing. FPH would welcome more community allotments and opportunities for people to have access to safe, green spaces.
“Because there are long waiting lists for allotments, we need a strategy that considers how we could make better use of neglected land that marks the transition from towns to cities.
“Given the cost to individuals and the economy of poor mental health, it makes sense from both a public health and economic perspective to prioritise mental wellbeing.”