Doctors are prescribing time in nature to heal physical and mental health

Hiking in Yosemite

Much has been said about the healing power of nature. Now, some medical professionals in Canada, Japan, Scandanavia and the US are increasingly prescribing it.

Doctors are instructing their patients to wander park trails, feel the crunch of leaves beneath their feet and breathe in fresh air. It’s part of BC Parks Foundation’s growing PaRX program, which intends to improve people’s mental and physical health by connecting them with nature.

Since PaRX launched in November 2020 participating doctors have prescribed countless hours in the sun.

“We do have a standard recommendation that you spend at least two hours in nature each week and at least 20 minutes each time to maximize those health benefits,” PaRx director and family physician Dr. Melissa Lem told CNN. “There’s almost no condition that nature isn’t good for, from diabetes to high blood pressure. ADHD in children, anxiety and depression.“i

“There’s so many different ways that nature is good for our bodies and brains, so it’s also really effective health intervention,” said Lem. “We like to say that it should be the fourth pillar of health, along with healthy diet and sleep and exercise.”

From a 2020 Yale Study:

In a study of 20,000 people, a team led by Mathew White of the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter, found that people who spent two hours a week in green spaces — local parks or other natural environments, either all at once or spaced over several visits — were substantially more likely to report good health and psychological well-being than those who don’t. Two hours was a hard boundary: The study, published last June, showed there were no benefits for people who didn’t meet that threshold.

The effects were robust, cutting across different occupations, ethnic groups, people from rich and poor areas, and people with chronic illnesses and disabilities.

Japanese researchers have studied “forest bathing” — a poetic name for walking in the woods. They suspect aerosols from the forests, inhaled during a walk, are behind elevated levels of Natural Killer or NK cells in the immune system, which fight tumors and infections. A subsequent study, in which essential oils from cedars were emitted in a hotel room where people slept, also caused a significant spike in NK cells.

However this growing field might be defined, it is gaining momentum. In a recent paper, 26 authors laid out a framework to create a formal role for the positive impacts nature has on mental health and to formulate a model for conserving nature in cities and integrating it into planning for these health effects.

Yale Study

The English reclaim nature: