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The Benefits of Natural Environments for Physical Activity

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Abstract

Urbanisation has a profound effect on both people and the environment, as levels of physical activity decline and many natural ecosystems become lost or degraded. Here we draw on emerging research to examine the role of green spaces in providing a venue for outdoor physical activity, and in enhancing the benefit of a given amount of physical activity for urban residents. We identify critical knowledge gaps, including (1) whether (and for whom) levels of physical activity increase as new green spaces are introduced or old spaces reinvigorated; (2) which characteristics of nature promote physical activity; (3) the extent to which barriers to outdoor physical activity are environmental or social; and (4) whether the benefits of physical activity and experiences of nature accrue separately or synergistically. A clear understanding of these issues will help guide effective investment in green space provision, ecological enhancement and green exercise promotion.

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Correspondence to Danielle F. Shanahan.

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Danielle Shanahan is supported through Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Grant DP120102857 and the Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED, Australia); Richard Fuller holds an ARC Future Fellowship; Brenda Lin is supported through the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Land and Water Flagship; and Kevin Gaston is supported by Natural Environment Research Council Grant NE/J015237/1.

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Danielle Shanahan, Lara Franco, Brenda Lin, Kevin Gaston and Richard Fuller declare that they have no conflicts of interest relevant to the content of this article.

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Shanahan, D.F., Franco, L., Lin, B.B. et al. The Benefits of Natural Environments for Physical Activity. Sports Med 46, 989–995 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-016-0502-4

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