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Being “outdoors” in a new country: immigrants’ associations between outdoor recreation activities and settlement satisfaction in Canada

Being “outdoors” in a new country: immigrants’ associations between outdoor recreation activities and settlement satisfaction in Canada

Thank you to Dr. Ulises Charles Rodriguez, Postdoctoral Associate at the University of Calgary, and Dr. Richard Larouche, Associate Professor of Public Health at the University of Lethbridge, for providing this post.

The last few decades have been marked by increasing global migration, with millions crossing boarders in search of refuge, more opportunities or improved standards of living. In 2020, the United Nations reported over 281 million international migrants (International Organization for Migration, 2022), a population nearly seven times the size of Canada. Canada itself welcomed over 400,000 immigrants in 2021 alone (Statistics Canada, 2022). This surge in migration is not only reshaping the demographic composition of the country, but also underscores the need to address immigrants’ integration and adaptation upon arrival to Canada.

While immigration fuels population growth, it poses unique challenges, particularly concerning newcomers’ mental health and wellbeing (Newbold, 2009). Despite generally better physical health among immigrants compared to Canadian-born individuals, studies indicate a notable decline in newcomers’ mental health post-arrival (Ng, 2011). Moreover, refugees and immigrants dissatisfied with their settlement are at a heightened risk of experiencing emotional and mental health issues (Robert & Gilkinson, 2012). Recognizing these challenges, some scholars and policymakers have explored outdoor recreation as a potential facilitator of immigrant adaptation and wellbeing. However, previous studies examining the benefits of outdoor recreation for immigrants’ adaptation relied on small samples and qualitative research, limiting our capacity to generalize results to the Canadian population.

Insight from Nationwide Data

A recently published study (Charles-Rodriguez & Larouche, 2024) analyzed data from the General Social Survey, a nationwide survey conducted every five years by Statistics Canada. The survey included a diverse sample of over 15,000 individuals aged 15 and above from all Canadian provinces. We examined participation in 12 outdoor activities included in the survey to explore the relationship between outdoor recreation and settlement satisfaction in Canada.

It is no surprise that Canadians love outdoor adventures, but what is intriguing is the gap found between how immigrants and non-immigrants engage in outdoor recreation. Canadian-born participants engaged in significantly more diverse outdoor recreation activities than immigrants. This finding was consistent across immigrant characteristics, including time since immigration and program of migration (e.g., economic immigrants, family reunification immigrants, and refugees).

Taking a closer look, the authors observed some nuances and inequities based on demographics. For example, males typically participate in a higher number of outdoor activities than females across immigrants and non-immigrants. Similarly, economic immigrants participated in more outdoor activities than refugees and family reunification immigrants. These findings are consistent with other studies reporting multiple barriers that can limit newcomers’ engagement in outdoor recreation (Blye, 2024 (unpublished doctoral dissertation), Charles-Rodriguez et al., 2022).

The most interesting finding is that immigrants who practice more outdoor activities reported a better sense of belonging and satisfaction with life in Canada.

We also found that more recent immigrants had higher settlement satisfaction than those that migrated long ago, which suggest settlement satisfaction can decline over time. However, this is not true for all. Less recent immigrants who engaged in a higher number of outdoor recreation activities showed similar satisfaction than those that recently arrived, suggesting that outdoor recreation could be a key for sustained settlement satisfaction.

So, what’s the big takeaway here?

Simply put, immersing oneself in outdoor activities could be a missing ingredient in the recipe for immigrant settlement.

Taking Action: Fostering Immigrant Wellbeing Through Outdoor Recreation

This study presents the first population-based evidence suggesting that engaging in outdoor recreation can act as a protective barrier against diminishing satisfaction with the local environment over time. Previous qualitative studies have highlighted that outdoor leisure activities provide valuable spaces for socializing with friends and family, expressing cultural identity, and nurturing a sense of place and belonging (Charles-Rodriguez et al., 2022). With stronger and more representative evidence, we can better inform current and future programming initiatives aimed at enhancing immigrant well-being through outdoor recreation.

However, it is crucial to acknowledge that the benefits of outdoor recreation are not one-size-fits-all. While many immigrants find comfort and connection in nature, some may experience feelings of nostalgia, cultural disconnection, or uprootedness (Charles-Rodriguez et al., 2022). Therefore, any outdoor programming focusing on immigrant communities must be carefully designed, taking into account diverse preferences and needs. Programs need to consider the multiple barriers immigrants experience, such as language barriers, lack of transportation, discrimination, and limited knowledge about local recreation opportunities.

Collaborating with immigrant communities is paramount in developing effective and inclusive outdoor recreation initiatives. At the grassroots level, local settlement and recreation agencies, ethnic organizations, and outdoor advocates can join forces to facilitate access to outdoor experiences, promote outreach, and bolster retention efforts among immigrant and diverse populations. Meanwhile, policymakers have a vital role to play in implementing supportive policies and programs at various levels of government. Initiatives like Alberta’s “Nature as Second Language” program or “Learn to camp” at the national level, are examples of the kind of proactive measures that can foster immigrant integration and wellbeing through outdoor recreation.

Moving forward, expanding the reach of such interventions and enhancing marketing efforts could amplify their impact, ensuring that all immigrants, regardless of background or circumstance, have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of connecting with nature in their new country. By doing so, all Canadians can benefit from a more diverse, inclusive, and vibrant outdoor recreation sector.

Read the full article here.

Dr. Ulises Charles Rodriguez has a Ph.D. in Population Studies in Health with a concentration on diversity, disparities, inequalities, and social determinants of health. His research interests are in the intersection of equity, diversity and inclusion, participatory democracy, and health research. Other areas of interest include: sustainability, active transportation, and the outdoors.
Dr. Richard Larouche serves as the director of the Physical Activity, Transport & Health (PATH) Research Group. His research is focused on physical activity from a population health perspective, with a particular interest on active transportation, independent mobility, and outdoor play. He contributed to the development of the Position Statement on Active Outdoor Play and is currently leading a national longitudinal study examining changes in movement behaviours and their determinants. 


Blye, CJ (2024). Exploring Ethnocultural Diversity in Canadian Parks: Perceptions and Experiences of New Canadians [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation, University of Alberta.

Charles-Rodriguez, U., Venegas De La Torre, M. D. L. P., Hecker, V., Laing, R. A., & Larouche, R. (2022). The relationship between nature and immigrants’ integration, wellbeing and physical activity: A scoping review. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 25(1), 190–218.

Charles-Rodriguez, U., Larouche, R., 2024. Being “outdoors” in a new country: associations between immigrant characteristics, outdoor recreation activities, and settlement satisfaction in Canada. Leisure Studies 1–15.

International Organization for Migration. (2022, December 7). World migration report 2022.

Newbold, B. (2009). The short-term health of Canada’s new immigrant arrivals: Evidence from LSIC. Ethnicity & Health, 14(3), 315–336.

Ng, E. (2011). The healthy immigrant effect and mortality rates. Health Reports, 22(4), 25.

Robert, A.-M., & Gilkinson, T. (2012). Mental health and well-being of recent immigrants in Canada: Evidence from the longitudinal survey of immigrants to Canada (LSIC). Retrieved December 7, 2022, from

Photo by Tegan Mierle on Unsplash