Neill 2009 Green exercise: The psychological effects of exercising in nature

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Green exercise:
The psychological effects of nature

James Neill

A presentation to the
2009 Outdoor Recreation Industry Council Annual Conference (ORIC),
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia,
August 15-16, 2009

This 50-minute session (11:20 15/8/09) explores
the processes and effects of "green exercise" on
physical and psychological health.

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Green exercise” involves physical exercise in (relatively) natural environments. There is growing recognition of the importance of the natural environment in people’s physical and psychological well-being. We also have known for some time that physical exercise is vital for well-being. Now, the natural environment and physical exercise are coming together in the notion of “green exercise”. Early green exercise research is promising, with demonstrated improvements in mood, stress and anxiety. Doctors and psychologists are being encouraged to consider “green prescriptions” for their patients – it’s free, healthy, and effective.

Session overview

This session will:

  1. Explain the concept of “green exercise”
  2. Review related psychological and eco-psychological theoretical and empirical literature
  3. Explore inter-connections between “green exercise” and outdoor education
  4. Discuss audience comments, examples, and ideas (time permitting)

What is green exercise? (5 mins)

Green exercise” is a relatively recent concept used to describe a very old activity that has been become much less prevalent with industrialisation and urbanisation.

Green exercise refers to physical exercise in (relatively) natural environments.

Green exercise can be distinguished from, or contrasted with indoor/artificial environment exercise and from experiences of natural environments (such as gazing) which do not involve physical exercise.

Whilst the psychological and physiological processes and effects of green exercise may involve some unique aspects, a logical theoretical starting point is to seek an understanding of post-industrial homo sapiens' responses to physical exercise and natural environments separately, and then to consider possible responses when physical exercise and natural environments are combined, that is, green exercise.

Effects of natural environments (5 mins)

  1. What is environmental psychology?
    1. Preference for natural
    2. Examples of nature's imprint on consciousness
  3. Participation
  4. Green space
  5. Natural environment

Effects of physical exercise (5 mins)

  1. Types
  2. Intensity
  3. Duration
  4. Greenness/Naturalness

Green exercise: Examples (5 mins)

  1. Traditional Outdoor activities e.g. cross-country running, mountain biking, bushwalking/hiking/tramping, self- or nature-powered water-based activities (e.g., canoeing), rock scrambling, bouldering, rock climbing, mountaineering
  2. Explorative green exercise e.g., Barefoot - and neuroplasticity (Doidge quote)

Green exercise research: Review (5 mins)

  1. Pretty's treadmill visual scene study
  2. Pretty's quasi-experimental, green exercise field study

Green exercise: UC 2008 study results (15 mins)

  1. Mackay 2008 results
  2. New analyses of actual and preferred naturalness, length, intensity, greenness.

Future applications

  1. Green prescription
  2. Green gym
  3. Personality / individual-differences

Related presentation


Mackay, G. J. S., & Neill, J. T. (2009). The effect of “green exercise” on state anxiety and the role of exercise duration, intensity, and greenness: A quasi-experimental study. Manuscript submitted for publication.

See also

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