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Research and Projects

Green Gym

Who is involved?

Theme: Healthy People, Healthy Environments
Status: Complete

Background

The UK Government has recognised the need to tackle obesity, a major public health problem.  They have pledged to reverse the rise of overweight and obese people in this country, with an initial focus on children.  An integral part of tackling obesity is enhancing fitness through an increase in activity.  Improving fitness levels in young adults may help decrease the number of health problems in later life.

The BTCV Green Gym Scheme encourages people to help the environment and improve their health by taking part in outdoor projects.  The benefits of a variety of activity have been researched, with a number of studies focusing on the effects of indoor exercise compared with outdoor exercise.  

PenCLAHRC’s Evidence Synthesis Team have compared a sample of these studies and produced a systematic review of the findings. Our aim was to produce an objective review, which will help highlight the value of outdoor green spaces in motivating physical activity and in conferring mental and physical wellbeing.

Project aim

Our aim was to produce an objective review, which will help highlight the value of outdoor green spaces in motivating physical activity and in conferring mental and physical wellbeing.

The review focuses on comparative studies into the effects of participating in indoor and outdoor activity on physical and mental wellbeing.  We searched a wide range of data sources (electronic databases, relevant websites and hand searching of appropriate journals) and identified studies published in a disparate collection of publications.

Findings

Our findings suggest that there is some evidence that physical activity in an outdoor, natural environment may have additional positive effects on measures of mental wellbeing that are not seen when participating in similar physical activity indoors. 

All of the studies examined reported the effects on mental wellbeing immediately after a single episode of exercise. The duration of these effects is unclear, as are the expected characteristics and magnitude of effects following repeated exposure to outdoor activity.

We found lot of questions about exercising in different environments that have not yet been addressed. Further trials into the effects of physical activity in various green spaces are required to consider, for example, the impact for different population subgroups and any long-term benefits found when adhering to exercise in these environments. 

Ultimately, increasing the level of physical activity across the whole population will have a greater overall impact on the health of nations. In addition, activity in an outdoor or ‘green’ environment may highlight larger individual benefits in specific individuals or groups.  For example, people with depression may find that exercise boosts their mental wellbeing: a treatment the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommends.

Further information

The Green Gym project was completed in February 2011, with the publication of the Systematic Review:

Thompson-Coon J, Boddy K, Stein K, Whear R, Barton J, Depledge M. Does participating in physical activity outdoors have a greater effect on physical and mental wellbeing than physical activity indoors?  A systematic review. Environmental Science and Technology 2011; 45 (5): 1761–1772. doi: 10.1021/es102947t [You may require a subscription to access this journal's website]

Others Involved

Evidence Synthesis Team