Go outside! Doctor’s orders!
Doctors are now talking to patients about the importance of nature, especially trees and spending time in parks. This is a national movement, in 35 states, based upon the recognition that many people have become disconnected from nature. Prescriptions are for specific amounts of time in green spaces, on a weekly basis, as a way of treating a range of conditions including high blood pressure, anxiety and depression.
Environmental anxiety is pervasive, especially among those of us whose Medium accounts are set to follow the Climate Change tag. This essay was started after reading yet another, What I’m Doing to Survive article.
There is plenty of anxiety out there: Covid, heat waves, economic and random anxiety are bedeviling many of us. Over the past 30 years, 100 studies have shown that patient angst can be reduced by walking among trees. The smells, the shapes and movement of the leaves, the colors, all of these get us out of the spiral of negative thoughts.
These are free, local resources, which physicians are leveraging when they write a prescription for patients to spend at least 20 minutes per week in a park for the physical and mental health benefits.
Do you spend more than 7% of your waking hours outdoors?
Americans, on average. spend 87% of their time indoors and an additional 6% in an enclosed vehicle. No wonder we have forgotten our parks.
The national program, ParksRX, is currently in 80 communities and is promoted by health care practitioners, community health advocates and land stewards.
Generally, 2 hours per week in nature is associated with good health and well-being, with 20 minutes per week being the minimum level for measurable health benefits from being outside among the trees and plants. Most of the programs are focused on general wellness, but some programs are more narrowly focused on mental health, usually, managing anxiety, depression or lowering stress levels.
While we recognize the irony of writing an article on spending time outside attentive to nature, which is meant to be read online, the underlying challenge is technology and the urban environment. These have changed the way we pay attention, process information and have reduced our interactions with nature.
Redirecting our attention to nature puts us into a space where there is less demand for controlled attention, which is restorative to our mental health. Additionally, just being outside makes you more physically active. Spending time walking among trees has been shown to reduce healing times after surgery and increase longevity.
If we don’t take control and make time for nature, our life fills with routines and other activities and there appear to be few opportunities to be outside. Occasionally, we need to step back and ask ourselves, Is this how we want our lives structured?
How to get started:
- First, you don’t need a doctor’s script, although they are surprisingly motivating.
- There is probably a Park Prescription Program already in place near you. But if your doctor doesn’t mention it, ask and forward this article. Physician awareness of the Park Rx program is key to its expansion. A 20 page, Healthy Parks, Healthy People Guide for Health Care Providers can found here.
- For the next 6 weeks, commit to increasing your time spent outdoors and decreasing your time spent on screens. (Sorry Medium. Your readers will continue to read, just spending a bit less time attending to their phones and iPads.)
This is simultaneously a viral, hyperlocal movement, and an international movement. Scotland has officially implemented a Nature Prescriptions program on the Shetland Islands. Canada established its first national nature prescription program in November 2020 through the BC Parks Foundation’s PaRx. This program has now extended beyond British Columbia into Manitoba, Ontario, and Saskatchewan in 2021.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, the The Healthy Parks Healthy People: Bay Area collaborative is sponsored by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservatory. In the East Bay the sponsoring organization is the East Bay Regional Parks District. In Pennsylvania, the sponsor is the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.
In the comment section, please add a link for your local Park Rx.
Why does SymSoil care? We write on solutions to environmental issues, with a focus on soil biology. Trees and plants feed the soil microbe biome. Healthy soil influences water, carbon sequestration and human health.