Parks Canada teams up with health care professionals to prescribe time in the great outdoors
When your mom banished you to the backyard until dinnertime, she was onto something. There’s something about being outside—in nature—that just feels good (in addition to keeping kids busy). And now, even doctors are proving that it does you good, too.
Thanks to a new partnership between Parks Canada and PaRx (A Prescription for Nature program), Canadian health care professionals can now prescribe Parks Canada Discovery Passes—and a dose of Mother Nature’s medicine.
With more than 1,000 health care professionals registered to independently prescribe Discovery Passes to patients, a growing number of people are eligible for the prescription. However, the program is encouraging health care professionals to prioritize those who would benefit most, as well as those who live near national parks, historic sites, and marine conservation areas.
Building on the momentum of grassroots movements in the US, Canada’s first national nature-prescription program was created in 2020. It began in British Columbia—with the goal of providing resources and increasing accessibility to encourage engagement in natural spaces—and by 2021 had spread to Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba.
It starts with just two hours outside per week (for a minimum of 20 minutes each time) to experience a wide variety of health and wellness benefits. But no need to keep an eye on the clock. According to PaRx, you’ll know you’re receiving the health effects of a “nature pill” when you start to feel like you’ve had a meaningful experience—whether that happens while you’re eating lunch in an urban park or mountain biking through old-growth forests.
With some 450,000 square kilometers of national parks in Canada, there’s no shortage of protected, natural spaces to explore and enjoy. But you don’t need a prescription, or even access to a national park, to experience the associated health benefits. In fact, many of nature’s positive effects can be felt just by walking in trees or spending time in urban green spaces.
Just a few of the associated health benefits include increased physical activity and immune function; reduced stress; and decreased risks of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Experiencing nature can also improve cognitive function including memory, creativity, and attention.
Beyond physical health, time in nature has a strong impact on our mental health, and can lessen anxiety and rumination; improve mood and happiness; and encourage positive social interactions and a sense of purpose/meaning in life.
Time in nature doesn’t just help people. It helps our planet too. In fact, one study found that people who appreciated nature and/or spent time in natural settings were more likely to exhibit pro-environmental behaviors like choosing sustainability over fast fashion. So, get out there and do some good—for you and the earth!