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Physical Activity

Outdoor and Natural Settings

Outdoor and natural settings such as parks, forests, meadows, and gardens provide opportunities for people to be physically active, to connect with nature and socialize with others.  Natural environments provide health benefits for all ages.  Contact with nature can positively influence physical and mental health and well-being, and improve quality of life.

There is increasing evidence to support the importance of outdoor play and nature contact for children’s health, and well-being and overall development.


  • Physical activity and exposure to nature are important to good health
  • Parks can play an important role in providing people with access to nature
  • Play is critical to children’s healthy development
  • Being physically active outdoors, and in nature, can improve children’s health
  • Children who spend more time outside, are more physically active
  • Parks and playgrounds encourage physical activity
  • Children with more green space nearby are more likely to participate in periods of moderate to vigorous physical activity
  • Spending time outdoors is associated with higher levels of physical activity in preschool and school-aged children.
  • Children who have parents that participate in physical activity with them are more active than children with parents who do not participate with them
  • Adventure playgrounds (e.g. includes materials to build things, climb on, hide in and explore) provide contact with nature and can foster healthy child development
  • Play in natural environments improves children’s motor abilities/physical literacy (e.g. balance and co-ordination)
  • Play in nature, especially during middle childhood, appears to support creativity, problem-solving, and emotional and intellectual development
  • Unstructured free play brings cognitive (e.g. creativity, problem-solving, focus and self-discipline), social (e.g. co-operation, flexibility, self-awareness), and emotional health benefits to children (e.g. stress reduction, reduced aggression and increased happiness)
  • Green spaces/naturalized areas on school grounds play an important role in enhancing children’s light to moderate physical activity levels and add to their play experiences
  • Spending time outdoors can benefit children with health challenges
  • Activities in natural environments may reduce negative emotions and positively influence behaviour

Source: 2012 Children & Nature Network available at

Watch The Child in Nature (VIDEO) to learn about Nature Deficit Disorder and hear from environmental author Richard Louv.

Ideas for Parents and Caregivers - check out the following resources:  

  • Learn more about 18 ways to get kids to go outside from Active for Life.
  • is an online tool to help parents and caregivers gain the confidence to allow their kids to engage in more outdoor play. It includes a journey map and frequently asked questions about outdoor risky play.
  • Have a Ball Together! (PDF) - Outdoor activity ideas for all seasons. 

Keep in mind the importance of sun safety and when being active outdoors. 

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