Prescribing nature to Canadians
Back in 2020, it was announced that doctors in British Columbia could prescribe patients needing physical or mental health benefits with a national park pass. The program started with PaRx, which is an initiative of the BC Parks Foundation. It is driven by healthcare professionals who want to improve their patient’s health by connecting them to nature. By 2022, every province in Canada was eligible. Since the launch, over 11,000 healthcare providers have been registered to prescribe time outside for patients’ health and are working to connect thousands of Canadians with nature.
PaRX gained popularity by announcing a collaboration with Parks Canada whereby patients would receive a free annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass. This year, PaRx announced that doctors could prescribe patients with visits to the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa to improve their health. This is the first museum in Canada to join the PaRx’s mission to help Canadians with physical and mental health challenges.
Why Prescribe Nature?
Connecting with nature is one of the best things a person can do for their health. Nature has many health benefits, including lowering symptoms of depression, boosting immune functions, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and dementia and more. Spending time in nature boosts memory, creativity and work satisfaction. Additionally, people who are more connected to nature are more likely to participate in pro-environmental activities.
And the nature benefits are not limited to adults. Youth who spend time in nature are said to experience less anxiety and depression. More green space can lead to higher test scores and graduation rates, and 20-minute walks in the park can improve concentration scores in kids with ADHD. Additionally, seniors who live closer to walkable green spaces have been said to live longer.
Similar benefits have been found in spending time at museums. It is said that spending time among engaging galleries and interactive educational experiences can also improve health conditions, including anxiety, stress and chronic pain.
PaRX makes prescribing nature easy for both healthcare providers and their patients. They recommend connecting with nature a minimum of 2 hours per week for over 20 minutes each time. Studies have shown that people who spend 2 hours per week in nature have significantly improved their health and well-being. Studies have also shown that the most efficient drop in cortisol happens between the 20 to 30-minute mark when it comes to mental health benefits associated with nature.
Of course, every interaction with nature will vary from patient to patient. Some will experience relief and happiness simply by sitting outside on a park bench, while others will take to climbing up a mountain or walking through a forest.
Why a prescription?
Studies have shown that people respond better when they have written prescriptions. They encourage and motivate patients to take action and make a change. By prescribing nature to Canadians, there is more of a chance that they will go out and experience nature. Moreover, patients trust their healthcare providers, so if they are saying something that would benefit your health, they are likely to listen.
This program is helping people and the planet on so many levels. We are finding natural remedies for mental health and chronic diseases by spending time in nature. By prescribing nature to Canadians, it can help to inspire a culture of environmental stewardship. PaRx’s newest collaboration with the Canadian Museum of Nature allows for inspiring experiences and meaningful engagement with nature’s past, present and future. It could encourage people to increase their time in nature and take environmental action. This program is also a unique way to think about the relationship between nature, education and health.