Journal of Social Change


As the global obesity pandemic continues to extend its epidemiological reach, its magnitude continues to transcend demographic boundaries. Increasingly, the extant literature highlights the myriad challenges experienced by socioeconomically disenfranchised populations to combat the insidious biopsychosocial impact of chronic health conditions. However, a counter argument suggests that rural Americans have wide ranging access to the natural environment—an intrinsic resource that offers a broad spectrum of health and wellness opportunities. Beyond its application as a tool for good health practices, green exercise—defined as physical activity in natural settings—can provide an existential platform for the ideals of self-sufficiency, solidarity, and sustainability. A call to capitalize on pre-existing prohealth resources represents an open window for social change dialogue as participants learn to reframe the idea of exercise—not as a task demand, but as an internalized lifestyle value. Invoking Astin and Astin’s (1996) social change model of leadership development, mentors of green exercise programs have opportunities to optimize their leadership and coalition skills, engender diversity-positive attitudes, and affect positive change in a widely underserved population. The following discussion highlights (a) cultural and ideological considerations, (b) theoretical foundations, (c) virtues of social change agency, and (d) the critical role of the program mentor as a facilitator of positive social change in the green exercise milieu. For a population that has been historically entrenched in perceived limitations, a revisionist view suggests that rural Americans have an abundance of nature-based prohealth resources at their disposal. Green exercise initiatives not only represent a practical health platform for rural Americans, but such opportunities can have a transformative impact on the timeworn socioecological dynamics that mediate positive social change.