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Benefits of Practising Physical Activity in Public Urban Green Spaces

World Environment Day:

In 1972, the United Nations designated 05 June as a date for World Environment Day to raise awareness and generate political momentum around growing environmental concerns that have not diminished since. While there is a consensus within the environmental community that urgent global actions are needed to preserve the natural environment that we so deeply rely on, this piece will look into the positive aspects of green spaces in urban areas that city dwellers can access in the context of physical activity. 

Benefits of Public Urban Green Spaces - PUGS:

As mentioned in the previous article, green spaces can provide a respite from busy city life and can noticeably improve people's mental well-being. This was particularly obvious during the recent COVID-19 pandemic when sudden social distancing restrictions made many people realise the importance of accessing the great outdoors (Cafasso, 2021), particularly for those in the urban living scenario. It needs to be noted that not all urban areas provide equal access to public urban green spaces. Generally, economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods have low access to green space in comparison to more affluent areas, which is linked to health issues and well-being problems that can run through generations (Sharifi et al., 2021). Some studies suggest that neighbourhoods with higher amounts of green space record reduced mortality from cardiovascular disease, reduced respiratory illness and allergies, better self-perceived general health, fewer cases of diabetes and reduced anxiety and depression (Shanahan et al., 2016). Recent research shows that the quality and proximity of semi-natural green spaces in the urban environment offers better perceived mental well-being (Wood et al., 2018; Richardson et al., 2013). The trick is to take advantage of this knowledge and actively and systematically integrate it into our daily routine through habits. 

Benefits of practising physical activity (PA) in public urban green spaces:

To reap the benefits of public urban green spaces, using these spaces for  incorporating physical activity into our lifestyle can offer particular health gains. Exercise is a widely identified factor for the prevention of several non-communicable diseases (NCDs), including cancer. Some research suggests that performing physical activity in green spaces has a better health outcome than when exercising indoors. Apart from the usual gain of improved general fitness levels, regular contact with a natural environment rich in antigens and microbes can offer improved immunity and protection against infections (Gianfredi et al., 2021). For urban inhabitants, certain features of green spaces available in the vicinity positively impact levels of physical activity and encourage them to engage in an active lifestyle outdoors. Studies show that facilities, such as accessible walking paths and trails, sports fields, lights, and drinking fountains, are sought by physically active users (Akpinar, 2016). Cleanliness, maintenance, and aesthetics also add to a higher level of physical activity undertaken outdoors (McCormack et al., 2010). All these aspects were also highlighted by participants of UcanACT focus groups in all pilot territories as an important factor for exercising in public green spaces. Public urban green spaces - PUGS - can act as a free of charge gym space and support physical activity that does not require specialist gear. Many offer outdoor gym equipment, and other elements can be used as equipment, e.g., benches, steps - if available, trees, and other architectural or natural items can be used as a support. It is crucial to keep the green area clean and in good condition, and to refrain from devastating nature in the process. 


Health-related safety measures - sunscreen is highly recommended!

Some risk factors regarding exercising outdoors and cancer must be noted. Spending time in green spaces can enhance sunlight exposure thus vitamin D synthesis, which is important for those living in areas with low sunlight. However, regardless of the geographical location, we need to be mindful of skin cancer prevention through appropriate sunscreen protection, time of the day with less direct sunlight, and clothing protection (Lynn et al, 2016). Utilising shaded areas in urban green spaces is also recommended. 


- Akpinar, A. (2016). How is quality of urban green spaces associated with physical activity and health? Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, 16: 76- 83. 

- Cafasso, S. (2021)  These are the human benefits of building nature into our cities. World Economic Forum 


- Gianfredi, V., Buffoli, M., Rebecchi, A., Croci, R., Oradini-Alacreu, A., Stirparo, G., Marino, A., Odone, A.,  Capolongo, S., Signorelli, C. and Tchounwou, P. B. - Academic Editor (2021). Association between Urban Greenspace and Health: A Systematic Review of Literature. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(10): 5137. 


- Lynn, J., Urda, J., Pierce, P. (2016). Sun Exposure and Exercise: The Good, the Bad, and the Behavior Change. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, 20(3):11-15.,_the_Bad,_and.7.aspx

- McCormack, G.R.,  Rock, M., Toohey, A. M., Hignell, D. (2010). Characteristics of urban parks associated with park use and physical activity: A review of qualitative research. Health & Place, 16, (4): 712-726.

- Richardson, E.A.,  Pearce, J., Mitchell, R., Kingham, S. (2013). Role of physical activity in the relationship between urban green space and health. Public Health, 127(4):318-324.

- Shanahan, D.F., Franco, L., Lin, B.B., Gaston, K. J., Fuller, R. A. (2016). The Benefits of Natural Environments for Physical Activity. Sports Medicine, 46: 989–995.

- Sharifi, F., Nygaard, A., Stone, W. M., Levin, I. (2021). Accessing green space in Melbourne: Measuring inequity and household mobility. Landscape and Urban Planning, 207. 

- Wood, E., Harsant, A., Dallimer, M., Cronin de Chavez, A., McEachan, R. R. C., Christopher Hassall, C. (2018). Not All Green Space Is Created Equal: Biodiversity Predicts Psychological Restorative Benefits From Urban Green Space. Frontiers in Psychology, 9.

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