Examining Physical Activity in Natural Outdoor Environments on Markers of Well-Being: A Meta-Analysis
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The purpose of this study was to conduct a meta-analysis of the published scientific literature pertaining to the relationship between physical activity (PA) in the natural outdoor environment (NOE) and well-being (WB). Of studies included in the primary analysis (N = 19), several studies (n = 5) were retained for secondary analysis to determine whether differences on WB exist between PA in the NOE with an indoor comparator group. The overall effect size for the primary analysis was moderate (d = .49). The largest effect of PA in the NOE was observed for positive affect (d = .56). Results from the secondary analysis indicated PA in the NOE was greater in the NOE (d = .53, 95% CI = .28, .78; p < 0.001) compared to indoors (d = .28, 95% CI = .04, .51, p = 0.02) however this finding was not statistically significant between environment types (p = 0.15). There was significant heterogeneity in the primary analysis of PA in the NOE only (Q = 68.72, p < 0.001). Results of the moderator analyses of PA (p = 0.06), sample (p = 0.34) and study (p = 0.13) characteristics did not reach conventional levels of statistical significance. Results of the subgroup analyses indicated that there were significant findings within but not between subgroups for NOE type (p = 0.37), PA type (p = 0.47) and PA intensity (p = 0.55). In conclusion, while PA in the NOE was associated with higher WB, there was limited evidence to support that PA in the NOE allots superior benefits to PA engaged in an indoor environment. Future investigations are encouraged to include study designs that measure markers of WB at multiple time points, consider the eudaimonic tradition of WB, include diverse NOE types such as blue space and include an indoor comparison. Practical implications of the findings of this research include the potential for stakeholders to incorporate findings into future nature-based solutions that address societal challenges like increasing WB.