I was checking weather info on the Weather Channel, when I saw a segment about ecotherapy. To my surprise, medical doctors were interviewed about prescribing time in nature for their patients as an alternative to medication. Findings are being reported about the success of this type of therapy for helping depression, anxiety, diabetes, high blood pressure, and even ADHD.
Although many of us know that time in nature is helpful. These doctors have taken it a step farther. They have surveyed and categorized local parks that provide the best surroundings for their patients’ needs. This program is known as Park Rx. In addition to the health benefits, the program is touted as a means to build community and social awareness. This reminds me of the establishment and use of parks in the early 1900s to provide services, as well as time in the outdoors to people living in tenements and other areas in the large US cities.
Within medical and academic circles there are many studies that positively correlate time spent in nature with an individual’s well-being. These benefits can be seen both physically and mentally. Psychologically, time spent exercising in nature has been reported to not only reduce stress, and improve attention, but also positively impact mental restoration and coping with attention deficits.
Moreover, it has also been reported that time spent in nature is not only linked to improved nearsightedness, but also increased physical resilience. In 1984 Ulrich (R. Ulrich 1984) found that recovering patients who were kept in rooms with views of trees and grass recovered faster and required overall less medication than those who were kept in rooms without access to trees and grass. Furthermore, outdoor exposure has also been associated with an increased intake of vitamin D. Regular instances of outdoor exposure has found to help children remain alert throughout the day, maintain elevated moods, and fall asleep easier in the evening.
There is a wide range of park and trails services that have been developed across the US. Some are more interactive for children and families, while others are identified for people with specific conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
This is one the more interesting health initiatives that I’ve seen in a while. Take a few minutes to browse the website – it is fascinating to see what others have done. The little menu icon in the upper right corner is the easiest way to move around the website.