It’s World Physical Activity Day, and the theme this year is
“Active Child, Healthy Adult!”.
At OPENspace, we are particularly interested in the role that quality green space and natural environments have to play in enabling and encouraging people to be active, from childhood into oldest age.
In the last week alone, Catharine Ward Thompson has touched on this theme at three events across Europe:
- the International Green Care Forum on the Health Promoting Effect of Landscapes and Gardens (in Vienna);
- a promotional lecture for the International Green Infrastructure Conference (in Ljubljana);
- the Government Office for Science Foresight Future of Ageing event (in London).
We welcome the opportunity that World Physical Activity Day brings to shed further light on the associations between access outdoors and patterns of physical activity, and of the importance of these associations throughout the life course.
In 2008, we published a paper called ‘The childhood factor: Adult visits to green places and the significance of childhood experience’ in Environment and Behavior.*
Drawing on data collected in different parts of Britain, we reported a strong relationship between frequent childhood visits to woodlands or green spaces and the likelihood of visiting such places, alone, in adult life.
The data also suggested that the physical and the emotional benefits of access to green space are strongly reflected in childhood experience.
Eight years on, with stories of diminishing childhood time spent outdoors still in the news (see yesterday’s Irish Times, for example), we’d like to finish with some conclusions from our paper…
“People who often visited green places as children are more likely to associate natural areas with feeling energetic and more likely to visit green or wooded areas within walking distance of home, both of which suggest that habits of healthy outdoor exercise as adults are linked to patterns of use established in childhood.
People who were frequent visitors as children are also more comfortable visiting woodlands and green places alone as adults and more likely to think green spaces can be magical places.
It appears that such people have not just a physical relationship with green outdoor places but also an emotional one that influences how people feel about themselves and makes them more open to positive and elemental experiences in these places. Because lack of confidence in going to parks or natural areas on one’s own may be a serious deterrent to people enjoying the physical, social, and psychological benefits of outdoor activities (Burgess, 1998), it is important to establish whether childhood experience can be a factor in increasing confidence levels for adult visits to such places.
Concerns about increased restrictions on today’s children and their freedom to roam outdoors, as expressed in the focus groups in our projects and described in the literature, must be reinforced by the possibility that this will be a factor in limiting healthy outdoor exercise and positive relationships with the environment when today’s children are adults”.
* Ward Thompson, C., Aspinall, P. and Montarzino, A. 2008. ‘The childhood factor: Adult visits to green places and the significance of childhood experience’ Environment and Behavior 40 (1) pp. 111-143. doi:10.1177/0013916507300119