Physical activity and social connectedness interventions in outdoor spaces among children and youth: A rapid review

Alexander Wray, Gina Martin, Emma Ostermeier, Alina Medeiros, Malcolm Little, Kristen Reilly, Jason Gilliland

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: The rise in sedentary behaviour, coupled with the decline in overall mental health among Canadian children and youth in recent decades, demonstrates a clear need for applied research that focusses on developing and evaluating cross-disciplinary interventions. Outdoor spaces provide opportunities for physical activity and social connectedness, making them an ideal setting to address these critical health concerns among children and youth. Methods: We conducted a rapid review of peer-reviewed (n = 3096) and grey literature (n = 7) to identify physical activity and/or social connectedness outdoor space interventions targeted at children and youth (19 years and under) in Australia and New Zealand, Canada, Europe and the United States. We determined if interventions were effective by analyzing their research design, confidence intervals and reported limitations, and then conducted a narrative synthesis of the effective interventions. Results: We found 104 unique studies, of which 70 (67%) were determined to be effective. Overall, 55 interventions targeted physical activity outcomes, 10 targeted social connectedness outcomes and 5 targeted both. Play (n = 47) and contact with nature (n = 25) were dominant themes across interventions, with most taking place in a school or park. We report on the identifying features, limitations and implications of these interventions. Conclusion: The incorporation of natural and play-focussed elements into outdoor spaces may be effective ways to improve physical activity and social connectedness. There is a considerable need for more Canadian-specific research. Novel methods, such as incorporating smartphone technology into the design and evaluation of these interventions, warrant consideration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)104-115
Number of pages12
JournalHealth Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention in Canada
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr. 2020


  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Environment design
  • Exercise
  • Nature
  • Recreational park
  • Review
  • Social capital


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