• Outdoors Outdoors

Doctors are giving out an unexpected new prescription to treat multiple conditions: ‘Can improve all kinds of different physical and mental health conditions’

“Given the growing body of evidence … we’re hoping that our PaRx program not only improves patient health, but reduces costs to the healthcare system.”

"Given the growing body of evidence ... we’re hoping that our PaRx program not only improves patient health, but reduces costs to the healthcare system."

Photo Credit: iStock

If you’ve ever been told to “take a hike,” it was likely not in the spirit of the speaker looking out for your well-being, but an initiative in Canada is flipping that on its head. 

NPR reports that PaRx, launched by the BC Parks Foundation and driven by health care professionals, has partnered with Parks Canada to provide doctors across four provinces the option to write patients a prescription for a national parks pass. The initiative distributed an initial batch of 100 passes with hopes of expanding. 

“There’s almost no medical condition that nature doesn’t make better,” Melissa Lem, a family physician and director of the PaRx initiative, told The Washington Post. 

Lem said the initiative was partially inspired by ParkRx in the United States and is part of a broader movement, the goal of which is to provide health care professionals with tools that encourage their patients to spend more time in nature. 

It doesn’t have to be specifically time in a park or a hike either, as activities like gardening, walking whenever you can, and simply spending time in green spaces also bring a multitude of health benefits. 

Multiple studies have shown that spending time in nature can lower stress and anxiety, strengthen heart health, lower the risk of obesity, and even lead to healthier pregnancies and births, among other benefits.

Lem told The Washington Post that exercising in nature or pleasant outdoor settings “supercharges the benefits” of that exercise, noting that the standard recommendation for the PaRx program is two hours of nature time per week, in no less than 20-minute intervals.

Lem further points out that not only does the initiative help improve human health, but it also contributes to the planet’s health, citing that those who spend more time in nature are more likely to want to protect it. 

In an email to NPR, Prama Rahman, a coordinator for the BC Parks Foundation’s Healthy By Nature Program, said similarly: “Given the growing body of evidence that indicates nature time can improve all kinds of different physical and mental health conditions, we’re hoping that our PaRx program not only improves patient health, but reduces costs to the healthcare system, and helps to grow the number of people who are more engaged environmental advocates.” 

“If you love something, you want to protect it,” Lem told the Post. “I like to think that every time I or one of my colleagues writes a park prescription, we’re also doing our part for the planet.”

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