An ecosystem service perspective on urban nature, physical activity, and health (2021)
Nature underpins human well-being in critical ways, especially in health. Nature provides pollination of nutritious crops, purification of drinking water, protection from floods, and climate security, among other well-studied health benefits. A crucial, yet challenging, research frontier is clarifying how nature promotes physical activity for its many mental and physical health benefits, particularly in densely populated cities with scarce and dwindling access to nature. Here we frame this frontier by conceptually developing a spatial decision-support tool that shows where, how, and for whom urban nature promotes physical activity, to inform urban greening efforts and broader health assessments. We synthesize what is known, present a model framework, and detail the model steps and data needs that can yield generalizable spatial models and an effective tool for assessing the urban nature–physical activity relationship. Current knowledge supports an initial model that can distinguish broad trends and enrich urban planning, spatial policy, and public health decisions. New, iterative research and application will reveal the importance of different types of urban nature, the different subpopulations who will benefit from it, and nature’s potential contribution to creating more equitable, green, livable cities with active inhabitants.