Many Doctors On Board with New Rx Trend: Get Outside and Enjoy Nature
Doctors in Scotland are among the latest physicians in a growing trend who are choosing to prescribe to their patients time spent out in nature for what ails them.
According to an article in BigThink.com, the Scottish program is believed to be the first of its kind in the U.K. In addition to pulling out a prescription pad and ordering up “a long stroll,” say, four times a week, it also comes with a year-long calendar of outdoor activities that include unique recommendations like:
- Appreciate the speed of the wind
- Make beach art from natural materials
- Touch the sea
- Make a bug hotel
Robert Zarr, a pediatrician in Washington, D.C., has taken this trend a step further by founding ParkRXAmerica, a nonprofit that has developed an app to help doctors locate parks and green spaces near their patients. ParkRX allows doctors to track their patients’ adherence to their park prescription. It also helps doctors improve the quality of their practice and helps them network nationwide with other like-minded wellness physicians.
In Time magazine, Zarr says that it’s time for “a paradigm shift in the way we think about parks: not just as a place to recreate, but literally as a prescription, a place to improve your health.” He emphasizes how the park prescriptions can help treat obesity, mental-health issues or chronic conditions like hypertension and Type 2 diabetes.
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Are We Losing Touch with Nature?
Science proves that spending time in nature is helpful to our minds, bodies and spirits, yet our culture is careening fast in the other direction. The problem is rooted in our new tech-oriented culture. “Increasingly, nature is something to watch, to consume, to wear—to ignore,” says Richard Louv, in his book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. He paints this picture to illustrate his point: an SUV races alongside a breathtaking mountain vista—while in the backseat two children watch a movie on a flip-down video screen, missing it all. Sound familiar?
That’s why Richard Louv co-founded the Children & Nature Network (C&NN), which promotes urban green spaces, raises awareness of the need for time spent in nature and houses a vast library of research on how nature improves health. “Recent studies focus not so much on what is lost when nature experience fades, but on what is gained through more exposure to natural settings, including nearby nature in urban places,” the organization says.
Latest Study Proves Nature Saves Lives
Living close to nature and spending time outside has significant and wide-ranging health benefits, according to new research from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, published in the journal Environmental Research last July.
The study, based on data involving 290 million people and 140 studies from 20 countries, including the U.S., Spain, France, Germany, Australia and Japan, shows that exposure to greenspace reduces the risk of type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, premature death, preterm birth, stress and high blood pressure.
For the study, the team analyzed the health of people who spend time in nature compared to people who don’t spend much time in nature. “People living closer to nature also had reduced diastolic blood pressure, heart rate and stress,” authors of the study say. “In fact, one of the really interesting things we found is that exposure to greenspace significantly reduces people’s levels of salivary cortisol—a physiological marker of stress.”
The researchers also found that people who spend time in nature are exposed to organic compounds with antibacterial properties, released by trees, which could be the cause of some of the improved health.
“We often reach for medication when we’re unwell but exposure to health-promoting environments is increasingly recognized as both preventing and helping treat disease,” says Andy Jones, a professor from UEA and co-author of the study. “Our study shows that the size of these benefits can be enough to have a meaningful clinical impact.”
Diana Manos is a Washington, DC-based freelance writer who specializes in healthcare, technology and wellness. She is passionate about patient empowerment, natural healing methods and alternative healthcare.