Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Science in Biology



Major Advisor

Kathryn Demps, Ph.D.


Julie Heath, Ph.D.


Jesse R. Barber, Ph.D.


Neil Carter, Ph.D.


Outdoor recreation, as the intersection between physical exercise and nature, provides a multitude of psychological and physiological benefits to human well-being. Though many studies have reported qualitative stress reduction from outdoor recreation, few have focused on quantitative measurements of stress across recreational activity types, intrapersonal differences, and environmental variables. To determine whether outdoor recreation affects physiology, we collected 190 paired salivary cortisol and testosterone samples and 157 surveys from 88 hikers, 81 mountain bikers, and 44 off-highway vehicle (OHV) motorists. After recreation, cortisol concentrations were significantly reduced in hikers and OHV motorists, but cortisol and testosterone concentrations increased in mountain bikers. These three recreational activity types also significantly differed in motivation and wildlife observations, which could be additional mechanisms of physiological change. Out of all three recreation types, hikers were most motivated by environmental variables. To test how the environment could be affecting hikers, we evaluated the impact of landscape aesthetic perceptions and land cover types on hiker spatial movement and stress relief. Using data from 58 GPS tracks, we found that salivary cortisol was significantly reduced when hikers walked through riparian areas. Hiker cortisol also decreased after recreating in areas they perceived as aesthetically pleasing. Aesthetic quality influenced hiker spatial movement, with hikers choosing to recreate in high-aesthetic high-wildlife observance riparian areas. Though hiker movement and stress were not related to the intensity of visitor use, wildlife observations decreased with greater recreational utilization. Hikers, however, did not perceive any negative impact from their recreational activities. Despite the different forms of recreational activity, outdoor recreation has potential to benefit human well-being. In addition, managing recreational land for ecosystem health and wildlife may enhance well-being benefits, as well as serving a role in the conservation of wildlands.



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Biology Commons