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International data show that the majority of children and youth are not sufficiently active. According to recent research, children who spend more time outdoors accumulate more daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity and engage in less sedentary behaviour. However, the generalizability of these findings is uncertain, and few studies investigated whether outdoor time is associated with other physical and psychosocial health indicators.

Data and Methods

This study examined associations between outdoor time and measures of physical activity, sedentary time, and physical and psychosocial health in a nationally representative sample of 7-to-14-year-olds (n = 1,159) who participated in the 2012/2013 Canadian Health Measures Survey. Physical activity and sedentary time were measured with Actical accelerometers. Direct measures of height, weight, waist circumference, grip strength, blood pressure, cholesterol, and glycohemoglobin were obtained. The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire was used to assess psychosocial health. Relationships between outdoor time and physical health measures were examined with multi-variable linear regression models adjusted for age, sex, parental education, and household income. Logistic regression models controlling for the same variables were used for psychosocial health.


Each additional hour spent outdoors per day was associated with 7.0 more minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, 762 more steps, and 13 fewer minutes of sedentary time. As well, each hour outdoors was associated with lower odds of negative psychosocial outcomes (specifically, peer relationship problems and total difficulties score). Outdoor time was not associated with any of the measures of physical health.


Children reporting more time outdoors are more active, less sedentary, and less likely to have peer relationship problems, compared with those who spend less time outdoors.


Accelerometer, child development, exercise, mental health, motor activity, outdoor play, physical fitness


International evidence consistently shows that the majority of children and youth are not sufficiently active. This is often described as a physical inactivity crisis because, even at young ages, low physical activity is associated with the clustering of cardiovascular disease risk factors. Furthermore, population-based studies have reported that more than half the waking hours of children and adolescents are spent engaging in sedentary behaviours, which is also associated with detrimental health and psychosocial outcomes. [Full Text]


Richard Larouche (rlarouche@cheo.on.ca), Katie E. Gunnell, Gary S. Goldfield and Mark S. Tremblay are with the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute, Ottawa, Ontario. Gary S. Goldfield and Mark S. Tremblay are also with the Department of Pediatrics, University of Ottawa. Didier Garriguet is with the Health Analysis Division at Statistics Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.

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What is already known on this subject?

  • A systematic review concluded that children who spend more time outdoors are more active overall.
  • No nationally representative study has examined relationships between time outdoors and indicators of physical and psychosocial health in school-aged children.

What does this study add?

  • Among a nationally representative sample of 7- to 14-year-olds, each additional hour outdoors per day was associated with less sedentary time, more steps per day, and more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.
  • Children who spent more time outdoors were less likely to have peer relationship problems and had better psychosocial health.
  • Future experimental studies might examine whether increasing time outdoors leads to more physical activity and enhanced mental health among school-aged children.

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