Coventry explores gardening health boost

Coventry University and the Royal Horticultural Society explore health effects of gardening in a motion capture lab


The design of gardening tools and their effect on the physical health of gardeners were explored by Coventry University and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) as part of a joint study the two organisations are carrying out.

Professional and amateur gardeners of all ages visited the University’s state of the art motion capture lab, where experts in the School of Art and Design monitored them performing activities such as digging, pruning and mowing.

Coventry’s 12-camera motion capture lab – which requires the subject to wear a Lycra body suit fitted with reflective sensors – recorded the movements of the gardeners and enabled the researchers to calculate the loads in their bodies during the activities.

The study, which is the first of its kind in the UK, aims to identify the best gardening tasks for maintaining healthy bones, muscles and joints, and to assess the performance of a range of gardening tools to see if they can be redesigned to reduce the risk of injury.

Similar studies have been conducted by Coventry University in the past, including assessments of the England cricket team’s bowling technique and an analysis of the Riverdance company’s choreography with a view to reducing injury rates.

Dr James Shippen, an expert in biomechanics at Coventry University’s School of Art and Design, said: “Our motion capture lab has seen action of all sorts in recent years, from sports-related activities to dance studies, so it’s enormously exciting to be extending those activities still further to work with the Royal Horticultural Society on this unique piece of research.

“We have written software based on engineering principles to analyse the movement of the human body, and analyse how it reacts to different loads and postures. In this case the loads are those experienced during the most common horticultural activities. Millions of people around the UK enjoy gardening, so I’m sure it will be of interest to them to get some scientific insight into the dos and don’ts when it comes to the physical aspects.”

Dr Paul Alexander, head of horticultural and environmental science at the Royal Horticultural Society, said: “The health benefits of gardening are difficult to quantify, but by using the motion capture laboratory at Coventry University we hope to be able to better understand the effects different gardening tasks and tools have on the human body.

“By involving people of both sexes, different age groups, different skill levels undertaking different gardening tasks we hope to develop our knowledge across a broad spectrum of gardeners so that we can better advise them on what is beneficial for their health and how they might reduce the risk of injury.”