Nature has officially been recognized as a promising and effective approach to integrative health care in the US.

Prescribing time in parks and green spaces is now used as a way of treating a range of conditions including high blood pressure, anxiety and depression. State by state, the movement towards developing a more interactive and meaningful relationship to nature for one’s health and wellbeing is growing. 

Take Vermont: A state that consistently rates as the nation’s healthiest: With their Park Prescription Program, Doctors prescribe time outdoors to their patients in Vermont State Parks as a way to promote healthy lifestyles and prevent chronic health issues. With prescribed free park passes, patients are directed to go spend time outdoors to exercise, relax and de-stress.

And for good reason. One study’s results yield that Americans spend 87% of their time indoors and an additional 6% in an enclosed vehicle (on average). * That’s a shocking 93% spent indoors and 7% of our life that is spent outdoors. This may be a prompt for you to see how much time you spend outside.

In Evolutionary Terms
Our species has spent the majority of our time evolving in close concert with nature over hundreds of thousands of years.  So let’s compare that to time after the advent of agriculture just 10,000 years ago.  Farming transformed our way of life and essentially brought us more indoors by encouraging more permanent living structures.

And even more recently in our evolution: The internet. Screen technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated at grabbing and holding our attention and keeping us sedentary, indoors with our eyes fixed on screens- especially our children’s.  Are we becoming an indoor species so rapidly that our health cannot keep up with the change? Are there simply less opportunities to be active outside with how our modern lives have been structured?

Here’s the Door

As an ANFT Certified Nature and Therapy Guide, it’s important to recognize that nature is the therapist and the guide simply opens the door. So I would like to open a door for you. Just past the threshold is the natural world filled awe, spaciousness, beauty and restoration.  You can reliably find your dose of nature in national, state and regional parks. Thankfully, these precious areas have been preserved by forward thinking members of our society like Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park notoriety.

The vast majority of green spaces are free, of course. That is the giving beauty of nature. But for many of us we need help breaking out of our routine and a little encouragement from the people who are said to be taking care of us.  Now Doctors in the US are writing prescriptions to go outside and emphasizing the importance of nature connection for our physical and mental health. So it’s official. Get outside! Doctor’s orders.

Park Prescription Programs

Park Rx Map of Park Prescription Programs across the US
At the state and local level, there are Park Prescription Programs and nature connection initiatives of all varieties springing up. Hosted by a web of health care practitioners, community health advocates and land stewards you’ll find programs all over the US such as Parkscriptions in WashingtonPittsburgh Parks Prescription Birmingham Parks Rx. These seemingly disparate initiates are being noticed, coordinated and brought under two leading national umbrella programs called The National ParkRx Initiative and Park Rx America
The National ParkRx Initiative provides the resources needed to create and maintain a Park Prescription program, information on the need for park prescriptions and a state-by-state directory of ParkRx programs that are building the movement. The movement is just now gaining steam from its original inception. In 2013, The Institute at the Golden Gate and a coalition of park agencies, healthcare providers, and community organizations were inspired by the concept of nature-for-health and were eager to support Park Prescriptions as they moved beyond initial pilot tests into the mainstream.

Your next prescription may look like this
ParkRx America is a non-profit organization who has a similar mission to “decrease the burden of chronic disease, increase health and happiness, and foster environmental stewardship, by virtue of prescribing Nature during the routine delivery of healthcare.” ParkRx works closely with public land managers and healthcare providers to streamline the process of prescribing nature to patients in a real world clinical environment. 

Nature Prescriptions for Physical & Mental Health
The prescriptions issued range from nature based physical activities called “green exercise” to simply spending leisure time in nature. To accompany the patients who have been prescribed a non-strenuous outing in nature there is a growing field of ANFT Certified Nature & Forest Therapy Guides ready to help. The guides help patients slow down and practice Forest Bathing.

Forest Bathing, or “shinrin-yoku” originated in Japan and is now taking off in the US as a promising therapeutic modality. One groundbreaking study indicates that forest bathing trips increased NK count and activity and the levels of anti-cancer proteins. The increase has been attributed to a compound released by the trees themselves called Phytoncides that we breathe in during walks in the forest. * NK cells or Natural killer cells are a type of white blood cell that play a major role in the host-rejection of virally infected cells and tumors.  This is just one of 10 amazing ways that nature effects us.Benefits associated with Nature have been shown to include:

The Nature Movement 
The US isn’t alone in prescribing nature to help keep us healthy. Scotland has officially implemented a Nature Prescriptions program on the Shetland Islands. The movement is underway! Help spread the initiative. Share this news with your physician and local Parks. We need nature. Nature takes care of us and in order for us to live sustainably on this planet, we must recognize and honor this fact.

What This Means for you
I’ll propose some actions to help get you started:

  1. Ask your Doctor about a Park Prescription Program near you
  2. Refer your Doctor to the information in this blog post
  3. For 6 weeks, commit to increasing your time spent outdoors and decreasing your time spent on screens.

There may be a Park Prescription Program in your area already in place.  So during your next doctor’s visit, you might even be sent off with a prescription not to be fulfilled at your pharmacy, but at your local State Park.