PaRx for Good Health
Doctors in B.C. can now prescribe time in nature through the evidence-based PaRx organization led by Dr. Melissa Lem in partnership with B.C.Parks Foundation and health-care professionals. Ontario and Saskatchewan have also started PaRx.
When we think about doctors’ prescriptions, first thoughts might drift to pharmaceuticals dealt out in little bottles. Now there is something else we can add to the idea of a doctor giving a prescription: a prescription for time spent in nature. Many studies over the decades have shown that time spent in nature is good for your health. Dr. Lem says: “Nature prescription happens when a licensed health care professional, like a doctor or a nurse or a psychologist, writes a formal recommendation down for their patient to spend time in nature to treat or prevent health conditions.”
CBC Radio’s The Current special “Back to the Land: How a prescription for nature could make us healthier“ with host Duncan McCue, profiled the PaRx program in conversation with Dr. Lem. They outlined the research, ideas, and benefits associated with time in nature and health.
First, the stress reduction theory says that “spending time in nature helps us recover from that stress better” and Dr. Lem points out that “stress is a major risk factor for…conditions like stroke, conditions like heart attacks and diabetes [which] are all related to stress and inflammation, so by reducing that stress and reducing that inflammation on a biochemical level, we can all improve our health.” The effects include drops in cortisol (stress hormone) 20% with as little as 10 minutes 3 times per week in a “self-defined meaningful nature experience.”
The attention restoration theory says that nature offers a break from the chaos of our daily lives. Not focusing on the myriad of daily chores allows a focus that is captivated but not scattered. This in turn reduces frustration and irritability.
In addition, breathing in the organic chemicals phytoncides is also good for you. These chemicals are given off by plants and have an effect on human physiology. Dr. Lem says that phytoncides “increase your natural killer cell activity, which is an important immune cell, and it actually increases your amounts of immunoproteins, so just smelling nature can actually boost our health.”
PaRx is Canada’s first nature prescription initiative. The initiative has formed a standard 2 hours per week recommendation with 20 minutes each time; this is “based on the most recent research.” Many health professionals are signing up to be involved in the program. In addition, Dr. Lam and her colleagues are aware of the necessity of accessible green spaces for everyone and part of their work is “getting governments to realize that nature is an essential health service and to get them to enshrine policy into city building and city planning that makes sure that green spaces are accessible to everyone; not just a little patch of grass, but green spaces with trees and interesting biodiversity.” The research helps us appreciate the importance of how we design our spaces and what such design means for our health.
There are so many more benefits of spending time in nature than have been mentioned in this summary. Mental health benefits, for example, are among these. Be sure to take advantage of the nature spaces around you, even for a little sit down beside a tree.