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Doctors in Canada to begin prescribing nature to patients

A new "evidence-based nature prescription program" will see patients spending time in the woods.

Credit: Bekir Uğur from Pexels

Key Takeaways
  • A Canadian organization is helping doctors prescribe time outdoors to their patients in a first for the country.
  • A variety of studies agree on the health benefits of time in nature.
  • While not everybody lives near a forest, there are ways to use nature to improve your health no matter where you are.

An increasing number of studies show that humans do better after spending some time in nature. Time spent outdoors can lead to health benefits such as lower blood pressure, reduced inflammation, and improved mood. Spending time near water has a similar effect. However, it is rare to hear a medical expert suggest that you should spend more time outdoors.

To help fix that, and as the result of an international grassroots movement to promote the use of nature for better health, a new program is assisting doctors in British Columbia to get their patients out of the hospital and into nature.

PaRx, a riff on “Parks RX,” is a program launched by the BC Parks Foundation to empower health care providers so that their patients might use the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest to improve their health. When health care providers in the province sign up with the program, they are sent a nature prescription file, which includes instructions on writing and recording nature prescriptions.

This isn’t an entirely new program; doctors in Scotland have been able to prescribe time in nature for a while now. The idea behind this is American and was first proposed about a decade ago.

Dr. Melissa Lem, a physician and assistant professor at the University of British Columbia who is involved with the project, explained their motivation to CityNews 1130 in Vancouver:

“A couple of years ago, there was a fairly major meta-analysis published that looked at a number of different diseases, like hypertension, cardiovascular disease, pre-term births, mental health outcomes, and they analyzed all this and linked it to the amount of nature time and green space that people were exposed to or spend time in – and what it found was that spending time in nature significantly reduced their risk of a lot of these different diseases.”

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Efforts to expand the program to Alberta are already underway.

As mentioned, the movement for taking advantage of time in nature to promote health is increasingly global. Americans have access to similar programs, though their availability varies dramatically by state and even within states.

Our Canadian friends also have suggestions for adding nature to your current routine, many of which are fully applicable in urban environments. Little things like taking a lunchtime walk in the park, doing your next workout outside near greenery rather than in the gym, or deciding to go on a nature walk rather than for drinks with a friend can all be sources of more time in nature.

So even if you can’t get a doctor to confirm that hiking in the Pacific Northwest is a medical necessity, it might be a good idea for you to get more nature walks in. Just be sure to make it a regular occurrence, as an increasing body of evidence suggests the benefits stack over time, and be sure to make it last at least 20 minutes.

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