By Melissa Lem, MD, CCFP, FCFP
Nature prescriptions were named one of the top 8 global wellness trends in 2019. And it’s no surprise—research suggests that children and adults who enjoy more green time are happier and healthier.
Starting with a BC launch in November 2020 to significant and ongoing attention from every major media outlet in the country, PaRx is breaking ground as Canada’s first national, evidence-based nature prescription program.
With the endorsement of major health organizations, PaRx proceeded to launch in Ontario in February, and Saskatchewan this July—and the response has been wonderful. With over 800 prescribers now registered across the country, licensed health-care professionals from physicians to psychologists are actively spreading the word about the health benefits of nature to their patients and communities. Featuring practical resources like quick tips and patient handouts, our goal is to make prescribing time in nature simple, fun and effective.
Many of us intuitively understand the power of a hike in the forest or a day at the ocean to calm, focus and refresh us—especially during the pandemic when outdoors has become one of the safest places to be. During the pandemic, park use in BC has soared, with 85 per cent of Canadians in a recent survey saying that parks had a positive impact on their mental health.
Not only is that feeling backed up by science, however, but the benefits extend far beyond mental health. A 2018 systematic review pointed to an impressive number of positive effects related to increased nature contact, from improved blood pressure and cancer-related outcomes, to a reduced risk of asthma, preterm birth, coronary heart disease, Type II Diabetes and stroke. In children, research indicates that more time spent in nature can result in better attention capacity, behaviour, eyesight, motor skills development, school performance, sleep quality and self-esteem.
What’s more, research also tells us that people who are more connected to nature engage in more pro-environmental behaviours, from saving energy and recycling to advocating for action on climate change. With the 2021 heat dome a recent memory and wildfire season a current reality, building support for restoring, expanding and connecting to nature in our communities is a crucial way to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and build resilience in our built environments, ourselves and our patients. So when we write nature prescriptions, we’re also doing our part for the planet.
Nature and health are having a major moment—and it’s our job to sustain the momentum. As trusted primary care providers who work closely with patients to promote their wellbeing across the lifespan, family physicians are vital for fostering the nature-health connection and creating a healthier future for us all.
Check out www.parkprescriptions.ca to register to become a prescriber, and spread the word about how good nature is for us to your community. We hope to see you there.
Dr. Melissa Lem is Director of Park Prescriptions for the BC Parks Foundation, President-elect of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, and a Clinical Assistant Professor in the University of British Columbia’s Department of Family Practice.