Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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INTRODUCTION: Mindfulness, green exercise, and connectedness to nature are increasingly popular topics among academics and the public. These three topics overlap in the underexplored area called mindful green exercise. Mindful green exercise is a blend of mindful exercise and green exercise. Mindful exercise is physical exercise during which people pay attention on purpose without judgment to each new present moment. The person applies an accepting awareness to internal phenomena (thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations) and external phenomena (objects and events in the environment). Green exercise is exercise performed outdoors in natural environments. Despite its name, green exercise does not only occur in green natural environments. Studies have investigated the effects of mindful exercise and green exercise only modestly and without investigating possible interactions between the two types of exercise. Early evidence suggests that each type may independently improve mental and cardiovascular health in various populations. However, not all the evidence points to this conclusion, and the relationships among mindfulness, green exercise, and connectedness to nature are obscure. Additionally, practical barriers limit the broader appeal of mindful exercise and green exercise in the United States. The greatest barriers to participation are preconceived notions, unfamiliarity with mindful exercises, and many green exercises being vigorous. Considering the obscurity and barriers, the author conducted the present dissertation to achieve one overall purpose and three specific aims. The overall purpose was to expand what is known about mindful exercise and green exercise and how to measure state mindfulness and connectedness to nature. The first specific aim was to determine the effects of meditative and mindful walking on mental and cardiovascular health (Study 1). Studying meditative and mindful walking is essential because they have been researched less than the more popular qigong, tai chi, and yoga. Moreover, walking is a familiar and low-intensity exercise. Consequently, meditative and mindful walking are probably more accessible and appealing than qigong, tai chi, and yoga in the United States. The second and third specific aims were to determine the effects of sitting and walking in green space on state mindfulness (Study 2) and connectedness to nature (Study 3), respectively. Another part of Studies 2 and 3 was testing the concurrent validity and 24-hour test-retest reliability of novel measures of state mindfulness and connectedness to nature. For mindfulness, the Visual Analog Scale-Mindfulness (VAS-M) and State Mindfulness Scale for Physical Activity (SMS-PA) were tested against the State Mindfulness Scale (SMS) as the criterion (Study 2). For connectedness to nature, the Visual Analog Scale-Nature (VAS-N) was tested against the Love and Care for Nature Scale (LCN) as the criterion (Study 3). The last part of Study 3 was determining whether state mindfulness and connectedness to nature are associated with each other during green exercise (Study 3). METHODS: The first specific aim was achieved in Study 1 by conducting a systematic review without a meta-analysis according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. The second and third specific aims in Studies 2 and 3, respectively, were achieved by conducting randomized crossover studies. The studies had convenience samples comprised of faculty, students, and community members of two universities in the Western United States. RESULTS: The systematic review revealed that meditative and mindful walking significantly improve mental and cardiovascular health outcomes. However, it is unclear whether the improvements are clinically meaningful. The evidence comes from a small group of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) with a high risk of bias and from studies that were uncontrolled and non-randomized. The studies had a high degree of heterogeneity among their populations, interventions, comparators, outcomes, settings, and study designs. This heterogeneity precluded a meta-analysis and relegated the studies to a narrative synthesis. The present dissertation’s studies showed that acute sitting and walking in green space significantly increased state mindfulness and connectedness to nature. The dissertation offers initial evidence that support the concurrent validity of the VAS-M with the SMS. The VAS-M and SMS scores increased similarly, but the correlations had wide 95% confidence intervals (CIs). The dissertation also offers evidence that support the concurrent validity of the SMS-PA with the SMS after green exercise. The VAS-M and SMS-PA scores correlated significantly, strongly, and positively. There was no evidence to support the test-retest reliability of the SMS before or after sitting or walking. There was evidence to support the test- retest reliability of the VAS-M and SMS-PA after walking. For connectedness to nature, there was evidence to support the concurrent validity of the VAS-N with the LCN before and after sitting and walking. No evidence was found to support the test-retest reliability of the LCN and VAS-N before or after sitting or walking. State mindfulness and connectedness to nature correlated significantly, moderately, and positively after sitting and walking. CONCLUSIONS: Meditative and mindful walking are promising types of mindful exercises because they improve mental and cardiovascular health outcomes, sometimes better than active control treatments (i.e., non-mindful, traditional walking). Meditative and mindful walking interventions in the literature vary starkly, and clear descriptions of the interventions are sparse. Well-defined interventions are needed so that robust RCTs can investigate them further to corroborate or contradict the original findings. After generating a critical mass of RCTs, researchers should conduct meta-analyses on specific interventions in specific populations. Such meta-analyses will determine if the population-specific interventions improve outcomes statistically and clinically better than control conditions. At a minimum, a handful of robust meta-analyses are required before recommending specific meditative and mindful walking interventions in physical activity guidelines. New RCTs and meta-analyses should also investigate the effects of green exercise on state mindfulness, connectedness to nature, and health. The present dissertation showed that 10 minutes of sitting and 10 minutes of non-mindful, traditional walking in green space increased state mindfulness and connectedness to nature acutely. It is unclear how long the increases lasted or whether they affected the participants’ mental or cardiovascular health. Other studies have shown that mindfulness practices and green exercise independently improve mental and cardiovascular health. Advisable next steps in the research are 1) clarifying the relationship between state mindfulness and connectedness to nature, and 2) determining the effects of acute sitting and walking in green space on mental and cardiovascular health outcomes. When conducting studies on these topics, researchers should deliberate on how to measure state mindfulness and connectedness to nature. In the context of the present dissertation, the SMS and LCN (the criterion measures) did not appear to be test-retest reliable across approximately 24 hours. There was evidence to support the concurrent validity of the VAS-M and SMS-PA with the SMS. There was also evidence to support the test-retest reliability of both the VAS-M and SMS-PA after walking. While the evidence supported the concurrent validity of the VAS-N with the LCN, neither scale appeared to be test-retest reliable across approximately 24 hours. Researchers should investigate the criterion and novel measures further before trusting them to be valid and reliable.
focus; human-nature relationship; inner experience; mind-body; nature immersion; spiritual
Environmental Sciences | Medicine and Health Sciences | Mental and Social Health | Philosophy
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Davis, Dustin Wyatt, "Outside, Looking In: A Dissertation on Mindful Walking and How Green Exercise Affects State Mindfulness and Connectedness to Nature" (2023). UNLV Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers, and Capstones. 4669.
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