A Breath of Fresh Air

I recently came across an article in my newsfeed about nature prescriptions. You’ve probably received at least one prescription, given a prescription, or known someone who has received a prescription for a medication, but it’s less likely that you’ve known someone who has received a nature prescription — or perhaps that’s just me. When I saw this headline, I thought it was an incredibly interesting idea. We are often told that going outdoors, getting fresh air, and exercising will improve our health, but it’s not always the case that we listen and actually follow through. With the amount of time spent sitting in front of a screen and leading sedentary lives, a nature prescription may be the prescription we didn’t know we needed.

Nature prescriptions may fall into two categories: structured or unstructured. A structured nature prescription is a set of instructions for an activity (eg, nature walk, outdoor games). An unstructured nature prescription can be thought of as a professional note to do an activity in nature without any prespecified instructions (eg, going to the local park). In some cases, these nature prescriptions may be accompanied with a free pass to a national park.

To facilitate these nature prescriptions, there are often individuals in leadership positions to promote program among clinicians who also act as liaisons between healthcare providers and program staff. Additionally, there are nonclinical team members that follow up with patients and provide counseling to maintain prescription adherence. Moreover, outdoor educators play a vital role in organizing admission passes, facilitating structured outdoor activities, and monitoring for safety. It has also been proposed for outdoor educators to facilitate patient follow-up in an effort to reduce the burden on the provider team. Third parties may also be involved in distributing education materials to interested clinicians. These materials can be tailored to specific sociocultural or geographical areas.

In Canada, the BC Parks Foundation has initiated a campaign of nature prescriptions backed by healthcare professionals called PaRx. Providers that register with this initiative will receive educational handouts and will also be able to prescribe and organize nature prescriptions. PaRx recommends spending at least 2 hours in nature for at least 20 minutes at a time — recommendations based on the literature.

While more research is required to establish the efficacy of nature prescriptions, it is an intriguing initiative. With changing COVID-19 policies related to lockdowns and isolation, and increased mental challenges, improving our lifestyle with a nature prescription sounds like a walk in the park. These prescriptions are meant to increase quality of life and should not be followed by side effects of displeasure. It also seems like an effective way to become proactive about our health. Improving our health shouldn’t be thought of in a vacuum; Rather, we should think with the bigger picture in mind.

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About Leanna Lui

Leanna MW Lui, HBSc, completed an HBSc global health specialist degree at the University of Toronto, where she is now an MSc candidate. Her interests include mood disorders, health economics, public health, and applications of artificial intelligence. In her spare time, she is a fencer with the University of Toronto Varsity Fencing team and the Canadian Fencing Federation.

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