Syntheses of previous research have failed to identify a clear relationship between the presence and availability of neighbourhood greenspace and rates of physical activity. Some studies show a positive relationship, others find no or even negative relationships.
Mat White and colleagues at ECEHH have published research using Natural England’s Monitor of Engagement with the Natural environment’ (MENE) data which suggests that there is a relationship between neighbourhood greenspace and reported physical activity but only for dog owners.
Dog owners in greener areas were twice as likely to report meeting the physical activity guidelines than non-dog owning people. Mat and colleagues found that ‘the positive association between local greenspace and physical activity in the MENE data, is largely accounted for by dog owners walking their dogs in these locations’.
These findings may be related to selective migration, e.g. dog owners seek out homes nearer greater amounts of greenspace so that they have somewhere to walk their dogs, but the authors also suggest that the higher reported physical activity may be due to the motivational aspects of owning a dog on physical activity. They also argue that dog ownership, which has been shown to enhance social contact, may lead to greater feelings of safety in local greenspaces and therefore greater likelihood for use as a setting for physical activity. Finally, they note that the presence of dogs may inhibit the use of greenspaces for physical activity in non-dog owning populations.
Mat and colleagues conclude that the ‘findings support the contention that local planners and greenspace managers can help promote public health by being sensitive to the needs of dog owners as key users of local greenspace, and by supporting dog walking as a key contributor to population level physical activity‘. They warn, however, that the needs of non-dog walkers should also be considered and that planners and greenspace managers, as well as dog owners, ‘need to be sensitive to other groups for whom dog fouling and fear of aggressive dogs can inhibit enjoyment or use of local greenspace for physical activity’.