Enjoying the beauty of nature is just what the doctor ordered!
Inhaling the fresh air, feeling the crisp grass and rustling leaves underfoot, your eyes taking in a lush, green vista that goes on forever, and being suddenly more aware of the distinct calls of wild birds. Just some of the uplifting pleasures of a walk in the park. And now Parks Canada has made it official; the benefits of connecting with nature in this way are available on prescription!
A beautiful new route to improved mental and physical health
Doctors and therapists in several Canadian provinces can now prescribe their patients a pass to the country’s national parks in a new collaboration between the PaRx initiative, short for “A Prescription for Nature”, and the governmental organization, Parks Canada. This partnership recognizes the boost to well-being that spending time in nature gives us as it helps us be happier and healthier.
As reported in BIV (Business in Vancouver) in late January 2022, Parks Canada, an organization that protects and presents the country’s natural and cultural heritage for all, shared that it was offering this enhanced access to help patients facing mental and physical health issues.
More about PaRx and its two-hour weekly nature dose
With mottos like “make nature part of your treatment plan” and “Let’s get healthy, let’s get outside”, the PaRx prescription for nature program bills itself as “Canada’s first national, evidence-based nature prescription program.”
This program is supported by research showing the health and wellbeing benefits of immersion in nature, explained in this summary of its “Connecting Canadians with Nature” report. This details how time spent outdoors can be a solution to challenges like the high average daily screen use times in children and youth coupled with minimal physical activity levels, and the high projected per capita healthcare costs.
The PaRx website includes some inspiring simple tips for helping people make the most of their nature prescription. Ideas take in scheduling “green time” like a dinner date or doctor’s appointment, as when we write something down, we’re more likely to make it happen. Another hack is to make easy green tweaks to our routine. Things like booking a lunchtime walk in the park with a colleague, or doing a cardio workout on a trail instead of at the gym.
There’s even a downloadable “Nature Playbook” guide with inspiration for getting a new generation of Canadians connecting with nature.
New study salutes the mental health benefits of time spent in the great outdoors
In the research team’s analysis of their results, they found that “spending a lot of time in green space…was significantly associated with lower anxiety and depression.” The report found that a third of the over one thousand respondents spent more time seeking solace outside than they did pre-COVID.
The team concludes that their work offers further evidence of the mental health benefits associated with green space exposure during the COVID-19 pandemic, even after adjustment for sociodemographic variables (the likelihood that the more comfortably off will live in greener neighborhoods) and significant pandemic-related stressors such as financial pressures and nonstop news coverage of the virus.
And Medical Express quotes senior study author, Colleen Reid, an assistant professor of geography at the Institute for Behavioral Science. She believes that the study “also shows that, as a public health measure, more effort should be made to put in green spaces and make them accessible.”