We all know that physical activity has a positive effect on physical and psychological health. Studies have also confirmed that time spent in nature has positive effects on one’s mental health. In fact, research shows that walking through a forest for just 15 minutes can lower symptoms of anxiety and depression and boost positive moods – a perfect example of the benefits of green exercise.

What Is “Green Exercise”?

According to Loureiro, Ana & Veloso, Susana (2017), the term “green exercise” describes the relationship between exercising outdoors, exposed to a natural environment, and the additional health benefits achieved from simply being in nature. Whether it’s trail-running in the mountains, playing soccer at your local park or cycling a tree-lined path, green exercise offers additional mental, emotional and physical health benefits over indoor exercise.

One study found that green exercise yields stronger, more positive engagement with the practice of exercising, and improved self-esteem. They also reported that these psychological health benefits are largely achieved within the first five minutes of exercising! So, why aren’t more of us swapping our sessions at the gym for physical activity outside in nature?

Barriers to Green Exercise

There are many reasons why individuals may not include the great outdoors in their exercise routine, however, it seems that the perception of a given outdoor space is critical. Here are a few factors that impact this perception and people’s likelihood to opt for green exercise:

  • Safety: Perceived personal safety of an area is likely to be an important factor in an individual’s decision to exercise in that space. Whether it is considered relative to a neighbourhood’s crime rate or to how isolated you might be should you become injured and need help, safety is crucial.
  • Ease of access: A natural environment that is not accessible by public transportation or that doesn’t offer appropriate pedestrian links to move from one area to the next can affect participation in green exercise.
  • Socioeconomic status: A neighbourhood’s socioeconomic status is often reflected in the maintenance, safety and opportunity for socialization in the surrounding natural environments, all of which are factors that can decrease engagement with green exercise.

Creating Equitable Opportunities for Green Exercise

Through this concept of green exercise, we are reminded of the importance of providing all Canadians with equitable access to the benefits of trees – and natural environments – where they live.

In urban communities, planners can work with urban forestry experts to help create green spaces that are well-maintained, easily accessed, conducive to social play and offer visual interest and biodiversity.

In rural environments, accessibility and safety considerations for trails and paths is essential to encourage green exercise. However, it is also important to remember that adapting rural environments for human use can be destructive to the natural environment, which is what provides the additional health benefits achieved through green exercise.

As we continue to grow our urban canopies and encourage connection with nature, removing barriers to green exercise while respecting existing ecosystems will allow more Canadians to access the psychological and physical health benefits of green exercise.

 

Resources

Gladwell, V. F., Brown, D. K., Wood, C., Sandercock, G. R., & Barton, J. L. (2013). The great outdoors: how a green exercise environment can benefit all. Extreme physiology & medicine, 2(1), 3. https://doi.org/10.1186/2046-7648-2-3

Loureiro, Ana & Veloso, Susana. (2017). Green Exercise, Health and Well-Being. 10.1007/978-3-319-31416-7_8.