South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks and the state’s Department of Health have a new program that allows doctors to prescribe a free day at a state park or recreation area. Doctors write prescriptions similar to the ones used for medications that patients can use to waive entrance fees to the parks.
Similar programs exist in dozens of places across the country, including Baltimore’s “Docs in the Park” and Albuquerque’s “Prescriptions Trails.” You can check out the available programs on ParkRx.org.
These programs are part of a prescribing parks movement. Doctors across the nation are prescribing parks to get people to go outside. Using an iconic prescription pad adds weight to doctors’ suggestions that patients get exercise. But it also gets them outside. While physical activity is the most important thing you can do for overall health and wellness, being in nature helps. Time spent in nature is associated with higher activity levels and mental health benefits.
Spending time in nature reduces stress and anxiety. Studies have shown that nature also improves attention and impacts attention deficit disorders. Physical benefits include better health, longer lives, fewer chronic diseases that traditionally come from inactivity, and more.
ParkRx is a network linking park prescription programs across the nation. They believe the programs will be “key players in preventative health for the future of public health.”
Dr. Robert Zarr is a major proponent of ParkRx and prescribed parks. He focuses on the idea that nature is another option in the treatment arsenal, but it has fewer possible side effects. Dr. Zarr recommends that when doctors prescribe a park to a patient, they should talk about the parks in the area that would fit into the patient’s life the best. Similar to prescribing medication, patients are more likely to act on specific instructions than vague ones.
Dr. Zarr admits a second reason for prescribing parks to patients: he wants to help save the planet. He believes that we must take steps to protect and conserve the environment, and the first step is seeing its value. When you go outside and enjoy nature, he argues, you come to know it and value it. The appreciation naturally leads to a desire to preserve it.
The prescribing parks movement is growing, and with the recent moves toward preventative health, we’re not surprised. If your doctor gives you a park prescription, are you going to fill it?