Community and Connection

Bethlem outdoor gym

Improving physical and mental health for patients, staff and local residents at Bethlem Royal Hospital

A new outdoor gym has recently been installed at Bethlem Royal Hospital, which is open to patients, staff and local residents. Funded by the Maudsley Charity, it is intended to get people exercising and improve physical and mental health. 

The project was brought about by Mary Yates, Nurse Consultant for Health Promotion and Wellbeing at Bethlem Royal Hospital. She sees the gym as an important tool to not only get fit, but to help people manage their weight and find meaningful alternatives to smoking. As the usual day revolves around mealtimes and medication, the gym offers a different way to take a break. 

Making exercise accessible

The gym is accessible for older adults as well as wheelchair users, and the machines are free and easy to use, with simple diagrams explaining how they work. Doctors not only prescribe the gym, but exercise alongside their patients, and arrange coaching and support. 

Being outdoors brings many advantages that an indoor gym does not. As one service user from River House said, he “feels free” when exercising, and for another it offered a transition from the cycling and running he use to do around the Hospital. The visibility of exercising in the local community reduces stigma, and gives more people the confidence to give it a go. 

Bethlem Outdoor Gym
Bethlem Outdoor Gym

“When you’ve done a workout you feel better”

Since it was installed at the end of 2018, service user Leon has been using the gym two-three times a week. In the space of a few months he has already lost 7kg, and is further along the path to quitting smoking. He comments: “When you’ve done a workout you feel better – your yearnings are surpressed”.  

Leon has inspired a couple of his friends to join him at the gym. Wider participation and competition is facilitated through a downloadable app, where it’s possible to share information about how long you’ve spent on each piece of equipment. Leon’s favourites are the leg press and sitdown bike, but during each of his hour-long sessions he likes getting an all over body workout. 

Bethlem Outdoor Gym
Mary Yates, Nurse Consultant for Health Promotion and Wellbeing

Physical activity “is just as important as anything else, if not more”

The reaction around the Hospital has been very positive. Dr Cheryl Hartley-Brown, a Specialty Doctor in Forensic Psychiatry, who uses the equipment with her patients,says that physical activity “is just as important as anything else, if not more”. 

The impact of the facilities in a mental health care setting will be studied by a world leading researcher, Dr Brendon Stubbs, who is Head of Physiotherapy in SLaM and Post-doctoral research physiotherapist, at the IoPPN, Kings College LondonThe learning will then be shared across SLaM and the IoPPN, and at a local and national level, improving understanding of health and wellbeing in an outdoor setting.