A walk a day keeps the doctor away. A new initiative launched last month in Canada allows some doctors to “prescribe” a free annual ticket to the country's national parks to patients with the aim of encouraging people to reap the evidence-based benefits of natural beauty.
Known as PaRx, any licensed health-care provider can prescribe nature passes through the program. The foundation has collaborated with Parks Canada to provide doctors across four Canadian provinces with an initial run of 100 annual passes, as per the Washington Post. Along with receiving a free pass to the parks, patients will be asked to schedule at least 2 hours a week in nature, with at least 20 minutes per session.
This may sound like a bit of a fluffy suggestion to some, but the idea of “ecotherapy” is backed up by a growing body of evidence. A long stream of studies has linked access to the open air and natural environments to the improvement of a wide range of mental health conditions including depression, anxiety, ADHD, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). On top of this, research has found that being exposed to natural environments boosts working memory, cognitive flexibility, and attentional control, compared to being immersed in urban environments. Spending quality time in the natural world even brings benefits for our immune system.
Some of these positive effects likely stem from the light exercise involved in going for a stroll, but there does appear to be a deeper connection between our well-being and nature. Lab experiments show that even looking at images of natural beauty or simply listening to the sounds of nature, like crickets chirping or gently crashing waves, can have some mood-boosting benefits.
Who knows, soaking in the great outdoors may be just what the doctor ordered.