Get fit at the green gym



tree planting

Credit: IFAW International Fund for Animal Welfare/J. Hrusa

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Getting fit is now as good for the environment as it is for your health with a new program being launched in Sydney by Conservation Volunteers.

Instead of heading indoors for the usual cardio classes and weight sessions, participants work outside in the "green gym", doing conservation activities such as tree planting and habitat restoration.

"A lot of people don't enjoy the gym," said Elizabeth Cowan, the green gym officer for the Sydney program. "This is a nice way for people who don't like that environment to be physically active."

The green gym concept was developed in the UK by British Trust for Conservation Volunteers before being introduced in Australia last year in Victoria.

Cowen hopes Sydney-siders will embrace the federally funded pilot program, which plans to launch eight more in the near future.

Unlike regular voluntary conservation work, members of the Green Gym are asked to commit to regular weekly or biweekly sessions over a 12-week period.

In an independent evaluation released last year, Oxford Brookes University said the Green Gym increased motivation for participants, with almost all participants responding that they felt positive about their participation.

Cowan says the study is proof that gardening and conservation work has similar health benefits as walking. "It's really recognising that conservation work does have health benefits", Cowan said.

Jeff Walkley, an exercise scientist from RMIT in Bundoora, Victoria said lifestyle activities such as the Green Gym also have psychological benefits as well as getting the heart pumping.

"It provides the added benefit of contributing to the community and socialising with like-minded others," he said.