Exercising in Natural Surroundings More Beneficial Than Indoors, Study


By Adebowale Bello. Freelance Health Writer

A black lady enjoying yoga in nature

A black lady enjoying yoga in nature. Image credit: Freepik


Many people talk about exercising, however few follow through due to the level of consistency and discipline required. For those who follow through, they register at the gym hoping to embark on their fitness journey.


A recent study however has shown that you benefit more if you exercise in natural surroundings like parks than in confined indoor spaces such as the gym. 


This study reviewed past studies which showed that exercises like walking, swimming and cycling can be carried out in natural spaces like parks and lakes and has been shown to provide more benefits.


What can this mean for you?


The Benefits of Outdoor Exercise


Studies have shown that exercise in addition to other interventions, helps in preventing numerous diseases such as stroke, diabetes and hypertension. It also improves an individual's physical and mental wellbeing. Although these benefits are well documented, recent statistics by the World Health Organisation (WHO) show that 1 in 3 adults do not meet the global recommended levels of physical activity.


Coming in contact with nature offers a wide range of benefits, ranging from improved thinking and decision making (cognitive), mood regulation, pain control, immune function, birthing outcomes for pregnant women, and reduced mortality.


Challenges of Natural Parks in Africa


However, in some of Africa's major cities, organised and well maintained open natural parks, gardens and green spaces are limited. This hinders the promotion of public health. Even in rural areas where there is a lot of land, there are few or no provisions for open and well maintained parks, because there is limited awareness regarding their public health importance.


For a region that struggles with low economic power, high cost of living and transportation expenses, few people are motivated to go to parks, amusement centres or other similar natural environments where they may also have to pay entrance fees that could be relatively high. 


How Can Africa’s Cities Improve on Natural Parks for Public Health?


Although some excellent intra-city natural (non-game) parks, preserves and open spaces exist across some African countries like for example, in Ghana, Kenya, Angola, South Africa etc., such resources are scarce in many others due to urbanization, lack of planning and economic constraints in setting up and managing them. This scarcity negatively impacts physical and mental health, thereby increasing health risks such as cardiovascular issues.


However, several measures can be implemented by those African mega cities lacking open natural parks and green spaces. Some of these measures include.

  • Enabling laws


For countries that do not have them, enabling legislations should be established. These would provide legal basis for the creation and management of freely accessible public parks in urban and rural cities and towns for the promotion of public health and wellbeing. In countries where such laws exist, health and environmental planners and managers need to implement them effectively and assure funding for their maintenance. 


  • Integrated Urban Planning


Managers of cities across Africa countries should develop comprehensive urban plans that prioritise the planting of trees and other plants in public spaces. Public policies must enforce minimum green space requirements for new developments, ensuring that free to access and facilities enriched parks, gardens, and recreational areas are included in urban designs from the outset.

  • Community Involvement


Local communities need to be engaged in the planning and maintenance of green spaces (parks and gardens) as to ensure that these areas meet residents' needs and foster a sense of ownership and responsibility. Community park committees and volunteer programs can play significant roles in sustaining these green areas.


  • Public-Private Partnerships


Collaborations between government, private sector and non-profit organizations can mobilise resources and expertise to create and maintain urban green spaces. These partnerships can fund the development of new parks, revitalize existing ones and ensure long-term sustainability


  • Improved Security


Green spaces and parks that are renowned for being safe will definitely attract more people. These surroundings also have to be marketed in a positive light either through word of mouth or other means. Positive public perception is 5X more likely to attract people to use public spaces.


  • Collaboration with health professionals


Health professionals can enhance exercising in natural surroundings by taking the lead in doing so. Medical outreach and awareness campaigns can be organized in green parks and surroundings to enhance people's adoption of their use for enhancing their health and wellbeing.


Wrap Up


Africa still has a long way to go in ensuring that organised natural open parks, gardens and reserves are available for people to use in exercising, and connecting with nature among other social purposes. Favorable government policies, supportive funding, proper environmental planning and management, effective awareness and sensitization programs would be needed to make safe and serene public parks happen across African countries for the promotion of the overall health and wellbeing of the public.  



  • Maddock JE, Frumkin H. (June 2024). Physical Activity in Natural Settings: An Opportunity for Lifestyle Medicine. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. Accessed July 2, 2024. Available from here
  • World Health Organization (WHO. Physical activity. Available here




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Published: July 4, 2024

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