Doctors in Canada are now prescribing what some physicians claim should join the ranks of the other well-known pillars of health (sleep, exercise, and diet). What is it? Time spent in nature. Teaming up with the Parks Canada Agency, doctors can now provide patients with free passes to 80 different locations throughout Canada, part of a new park prescription program. These include select marine conservation areas, national parks, and historical places—each with a hefty dose of nature!
Park prescriptions in the U.S.
The idea of a Park Prescription (PP) is not new. This grassroots movement has been in the U.S. for several years. For example, South Dakota’s doctors have issued statewide park prescriptions since 2017. That state’s Department of Health, along with South Dakota’s Game, Fish, and Parks Department, piloted the program. Baltimore has a “Docs in the Park” program, and Albuquerque’s “Prescription Trails” are based on the idea that health can be improved or enhanced by spending time outside. Other PP areas in the U.S. have been in operation since 2009.
PaRx (parks) in Canada
The British Columbia Parks Foundation began its PaRx program in the fall of 2020—during the height of the COVID pandemic. Physicians and naturalists realized the importance that nature plays in everyone’s health. They collaborated with a goal to improve folks’ physical and mental health at a time when it was so urgently needed.
Since 2020, the British Columbia PaRx program has experienced great success. So much success, in fact, that they approached the Parks Canada Agency with the idea of expanding the program throughout Canada. Participating doctors are given free prescription park passes for their patients. And many patients are reaping the benefits.
Park prescription details
Doctors advise patients to walk or hike trails, breathe in the fresh air, and bask in the sunshine. In short, immerse themselves in the sights, smells, and sounds of the great outdoors. Physicians prescribe that their patients spend at least two hours each week in nature. Each exposure should last at least 20 minutes at a time.
Benefits of nature
RVers could probably list the health benefits of spending time outdoors. It’s what we live for, right? Well, Canadian doctors and their adult patients are seeing what RVers have known for a while: Time spent in nature can lower blood pressure, decrease hypertension, lessen anxiety, and counter depression. It can also increase creativity and brain function. (A 2017 Harvard study concluded that living near or in green spaces can improve the mental health of women, in particular, as well as help them live longer.)
Kids benefit from experiencing the great outdoors, too. Early studies have found that children’s cognitive skills are strengthened as they spend time in nature. Children may experience reduced behavioral and emotional issues, as well.
I don’t need a national study to tell me that time in nature is time well spent. I just know that spending time outside in the sunshine and fresh air makes me feel healthy and happy.