The Beneficial Effects of Physical Activity in Green Spaces

Today we’re going to study The Beneficial Effects of Physical Activity in Green Spaces.

Physical activity (PA) has been shown to benefit physiological health; for example, regular PA reduces mortality by lessening the risk of obesity, metabolic disease, and heart disease. Other benefits include the enhancement of psychological well-being. Despite the health benefits of PA being well documented, individuals in developed societies are becoming more physically inactive (PI – also physical inactivity).

Recent stats have shown that only 67% of men and 55% of women within the UK meet the recommended PA guidelines. PI has been recognized as the fourth leading risk factor for all-cause mortality, responsible for more than 3.2 million deaths worldwide. It increases the prevalence of many adverse health conditions, including major non-communicable diseases. Further, PI can also give rise to mental health issues. Thus, the price of being inactive has become a severe and expensive public health issue, costing the UK economy £0.9 billion.


The rapid development of urbanization has led to violence, high-density traffic, pollution, low air quality, and a lack of green spaces available – all leading to reduced PA participation. The decline in PA can also be attributed to technological advances making home and occupational activities more sedentary.

Consequently, less PA is undertaken outdoors as more PA takes place indoors. Don’t you know that exposure to green spaces or natural environments positively correlates with improved physical health and psychological well-being? Since green spaces and PA independently affect an individual’s health, there is evidence that PA undertaken in nature promotes more significant health benefits.

This combination has been termed ‘green exercise’ to signify the synergistic effect of PA performed within green spaces. Therefore engaging in PA in green spaces can combat the issue of rising PI. It’s worth examining if the public health budget is better spent on developing green spaces than built environments (e.g., leisure facilities).

Industrial Revolution

Since the industrial revolution, humans have become more sedentary, which has led to declining engagement with nature. These factors have been associated with increased PI and negative health consequences.

It has been shown that present-day humans actively seek out green spaces due to our innate need to explore the great outdoors, and this interaction is advantageous to our health. Health benefits of being exposed to green spaces include normalization of blood pressure to baseline levels, better cardiovascular health, and a lower risk for type 2 diabetes. Accordingly, green spaces lower mortality risks.

Concurrently, improvements in psychological states and reduced negative moods are experienced within five minutes of exposure to green spaces.

Green Spaces Provide The Specific Stimuli

In addition, green spaces provide the specific stimuli that allow for the restoration of fatigued directed attention (the ability to avoid being distracted by competing stimuli), resulting in a better ability to focus.

This happens because green spaces are rich in therapeutic characteristics important for restorative experiences. For instance, the visual features of green spaces promote feelings of “being away” from structured activities like work. Immersing one’s self in nature can attenuate stress. According to Roger Ulric’s stress recovery theory, being in the presence of natural environments can act as a buffer against the impact of stress, probably

due to the exposure to sceneries that provoke feelings of calmness and pleasantness. Hence, the qualities of green spaces can restore directed attention and can be used as a mechanism to combat stress.

Natural Settings Affect Perceived Exertion

Correspondingly, natural settings affect perceived exertion (an individual’s perception of how hard they work during an activity). During a self-paced walking exercise, individuals who walk outside report lower perceived exertion than those walking indoors on a treadmill. As a result, individuals exercise much harder outdoors compared to indoors.

This evidence suggests exercises performed in green spaces may feel easier because individuals perceive outdoor activities to be less demanding. Compared to walking indoors, walking in green spaces lowers blood pressure, heart rate, and sympathetic (fight or flight) nerve activity and increases parasympathetic (rest and digest) nerve activity.

A Study By Brian Focht

Nonetheless, self-paced exercises and perceived exertion experienced in green spaces have been linked to future exercise behaviors via affective responses. A study by Brian Focht supports this view, as the findings reveal that walking either outdoors or indoors improved affective responses.

However, outdoor walking produced more pleasant affective states, enjoyment, and intentions for future PA. Indeed, PA done in green spaces positively influences affective responses, which increases PA engagement and adherence.

Furthermore, literature has concluded that individuals are more motivated to be physically active in environments that are attractive to the eye. Natural environments are more aesthetically appealing than their built counterparts.

Thus, it’s no wonder that the sight of green spaces motivates individuals to walk or cycle. A study in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health states that an individual is more likely to exercise when a natural environment is perceived as safe and pleasant. This suggests that natural environments are an essential component for the occurrence of PA. Also, individuals tend to complete an outdoor exercise program over an indoor program.

Natural Environments Might Help With Future Exercise Behaviours

Natural environments might help with future exercise behaviors through social experience (e.g., social interactions and expectations). It is noted that green spaces enable social interactions within communities.

A study found that individuals tended to converse more with each other when they were a part of outdoor walking groups. This suggests that green spaces facilitate social cohesion and that individuals are more often persuaded to participate in PA for social opportunities associated with exercise. Green spaces have been found to endorse social interactions and increase the enjoyment of PA, which in turn aids with future exercise behaviors.

Other Research Findings

Other research findings suggest that environmental factors such as quality, safety, and weather are critical in encouraging or discouraging an individual’s decision to partake in outdoor PA. Poorly maintained green spaces negatively affect individuals’ motivation to exercise outdoors.

The resultant effects of extreme weather have also been identified as a barrier to outdoor PA. In contrast, individuals exercise more frequently indoors than outdoors, regardless of the season.

Even with environmental factors being a prevalent barrier for PA in green spaces, there is evidence to suggest that an individual’s perception of the green spaces around them plays a more significant role in their decision-making regarding outdoor PA.

The Verdict: Effects of Physical Activity In Green Spaces Is Healthy

In summary, despite some research discrediting the potential benefits of PA performed in green spaces, there is a positive amount of evidence

illustrating that PA in green spaces benefits overall health. The natural environment increases PA adherence due to its aesthetic qualities. Frequent exposures to green spaces lead to increased focus and attention, reduced stress levels, increased affective response, enhanced social interactions, and increased enjoyment of PA.

Consequently, increased PA improves the body’s physiological and psychological states, decreasing the mortality rate from metabolic diseases. Being in touch with nature could be used to fight PI and its adverse implications on health.

Therefore the public health budget is better invested in developing green spaces in urban areas because, according to a study done in England, an increased PA in green spaces could save the UK economy a whopping £2.2 billion! For this reason, developing urban green areas and protecting multi-use federal parks are necessary to improve public health.