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Nature prescriptions program arrives at Parks Canada

The growing wellness trends sees physicians prescribe time in nature via passes to parks

Not getting enough nature? Maybe you need a doctor’s note? Recently, Parks Canada has partnered with PaRx to offer up 100 park passes that can be prescribed by doctors to patients in need of some nature therapy and forest bathing.

The initiative originated with the BC Parks Foundation in Canada, though the park prescriptions program began as a grasssroots initiative more than 10 years ago in the United States.

Prescribers can register with PaRx and will receive a nature prescription file customized with a unique provider code, and instructions for how to prescribe and log nature prescriptions. Programs of this, ahem, nature became popular during the pandemic, and nature and outdoor spaces, in general, provided some much-needed therapy when the world locked down.
Regular visits to natural areas such as parks will also help with the obesity epidemic and it is a boon for mental health and stress relief.

“We are very lucky in Canada to have a world of beautiful natural spaces at our doorstep to enjoy healthy outdoor activities. Medical research now clearly shows the positive health benefits of connecting with nature. This exciting collaboration with PaRx is a breakthrough for how we treat mental and physical health challenges, and couldn’t come at a better time as we continue to grapple with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our daily lives,” said the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada. “I am confident this program will quickly show its enormous value to the well-being of patients as it continues to expand throughout the country.”

With the Parks Canada program, those with a prescription will have the opportunity to receive an Adult Parks Canada Discovery if they live close to national parks, national historic sites, or national marine conservation areas, and can benefit from it the most.

"I can’t think of a better way to kick off 2022 than being able to give the gift of nature to my patients,” offers Dr. Melissa Lem, a family physician and Director of PaRx. “There's a strong body of evidence on the health benefits of nature time, from better immune function and life expectancy to reduced risk of heart disease, depression, and anxiety, and I’m excited to see those benefits increase through this new collaboration.”

The BC Parks Foundation launched the program in November 2020. In the past, PaRx has partnered with other major organizations such as the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden and the Nitobe Memorial Garden, in the Vancouver area to improve access to nature for those who really need it by offering unlimited free admission to patients with a prescription

“UBC Botanical Garden is thrilled to partner with PaRx to increase access to nature,” says Dr. Tara Moreau, Associate Director at the UBC Botanical Garden. “Through our conservation work and plant collections, we and other gardens serve communities throughout Canada and the world by improving the health of our visitors and local ecosystems. Participating in this pilot aligns with other health and wellness initiatives underway at UBC and botanical gardens elsewhere.”

According to Lem, nature prescriptions can provide additional benefits for society-at-large including a renewed interest in our environment.

“Research shows that children and adults who are more connected to nature are not only more likely to work to conserve it, but also engage in other pro-environmental behaviours,” says Dr. Lem. “I like to think that every time one of my colleagues writes a nature prescription, we’re making the planet healthier too.”

PaRx has been endorsed by major health partners like BC Family Doctors, Saskatchewan Medical Association, Nurse Practitioners Association of Manitoba, and Ontario College of Family Physicians.

Lead photo: Canoeing on Emerald Lake, Yoho National park. Photo: Destination BC/Dave Heath

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