Canadian Doctors Have New Prescription for Patients: National Park Passes

We’ve covered the idea of doctors prescribing walks in nature and adventurous activities like mountain biking and trail running before, but a new program in Canada is taking it even further by partnering with the national park system. They’ve begun a new initiative called PaRx (ed note: Ha) that gives some doctors the ability to give patients free annual park passes.

“Given the growing body of evidence that indicates nature time can improve all kinds of different physical and mental health conditions, we’re hoping that our PaRx program not only improves patient health, but reduces costs to the healthcare system, and helps to grow the number of people who are more engaged environmental advocates,” Prama Rahman, a coordinator for the BC Parks Foundation’s Healthy By Nature Program, told NPR in an email.

“We’re not getting enough exercise, we’re not calming down enough from the tensions of the day,” said Florence Williams, the author of “The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative.” “We haven’t figured out how to solve these, so why not do something that’ll help our nervous systems unwind a little bit?”

Not everyone lives right among beautiful open space of course, and fewer can make a habit of paying for park access a couple times per week for their dose of outdoor activities. That’s what the PaRx program is meant to address.

“There’s almost no medical condition that nature doesn’t make better,” said Melissa Lem, director of the PaRx initiative. “Visiting a park once is great, but it doesn’t in a very meaningful way reduce the barrier to nature access.”

So far, 2,500 doctors across Canada have the authority to write prescriptions for the annual park passes, but patients can’t merely visit the doc, complain of anxiety, and ask for a free park pass, a lá medical marijuana doctors. There are limited amounts of the free passes, and it’s meant to serve mostly those who couldn’t otherwise afford access, and is part of an ongoing treatment system.

The hope too is that the program will inspire a reverence for nature that maybe wasn’t already there in patients. That they’ll realize the importance of the outdoors for mental and physical health, feel a deeper connection with nature, and take steps in their lives to help preserve and protect wild, open spaces.

“If you love something, you want to protect it,” Lem said. “I like to think that every time I or one of my colleagues writes a park prescription, we’re also doing our part for the planet.”

Photo: John Lee/Unsplash

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