Going Green refers to engaging in activities that are ecologically beneficial. However, “green” exercise is a term that describes physical activities conducted in natural settings as opposed to indoors. The positive effect of exercise on mental health has been well established. In recent years, researchers have looked at how the impact of green exercise differs from nongreen exercise and the findings have been somewhat promising. Some studies have indicated that adults who engage in green exercise report increases in self-esteem as a result. Others suggest decreases in stress are more apparent after green exercise when compared to traditional indoor exercise.
Although there are many reasons that could explain these findings, one of the most commonly agreed upon reasons green exercise may benefit self-esteem is that exercise performed in nature provides distraction from daily stressors. Further, people who interact with nature while they exercise may not consider their activity as strenuous or rigorous as those who are focused solely on the exercise activity itself.
Despite the fact that studies on adults have shown some hopeful results, there is little research on green exercise and children. Therefore, Katharine Reed of the University of Essex’s School of Biological Sciences in the United Kingdom recently conducted a study involving 75 children who were 11 and 12 years old. The children were evaluated after they completed a 1.5 mile run in an urban setting one week and then a similar run in a natural setting the following week. Reed also measured self-esteem, perceived difficulty, and enjoyment.
The findings revealed that there were no differences in self-esteem ratings after the urban or natural run, and surprisingly, there were no differences in enjoyment and difficulty, either. This was unexpected, as the natural setting run required more effort because it was on natural turf, which included wet ground and hills. Despite these challenges, the children said both runs required equal effort. This could suggest that green exercise was actually less strenuous than urban exercise.
Also, the lack of difference in enjoyment ratings implies that regardless of the additional physical effort that may have been required to complete the natural run, the children enjoyed both runs equally. Reed notes that these interesting findings should not be overlooked and could benefit children that might otherwise avoid exercise. She said, “We tentatively suggest that green exercise may offer an enjoyable and accessible form of physical activity to less active children who may not typically be well-engaged in physical education.”
Reed, K., Wood, C., Barton, J., Pretty, J.N., Cohen, D., et al. (2013). A repeated measures experiment of green exercise to improve self-esteem in UK school children. PLoS ONE 8(7): e69176. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069176
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