Park Rx America is a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate health professionals about the benefits of prescribing nature and to provide an electronic platform through which registered health professionals can easily locate and prescribe visits to nearby nature-rich locations. They believe that adults and children will benefit both physically and mentally by being active in outdoor spaces. EIM and Park Rx share a mission to decrease the burden of chronic disease and increase health and happiness.
As a pediatrician in Washington DC, I have provided primary care to thousands of children over the last 18 years and witnessed close-up the toll that chronic disease takes on so many of them. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are currently 70,000,000 Americans diagnosed with hypertension, 29,000,000 with diabetes, 10,000,000 with serious mental illness, and 90,000,000 with obesity. Twenty years ago, I would never have imagined such an immense burden of chronic disease in children and their adult counterparts. It pains me to see so many people suffering from obesity, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, prediabetes, and high-cholesterol. This problem of chronic disease has reached epidemic proportions during the same period of time that our exposure to natural areas has plummeted.
After hearing Rich Louv speak at an American Academy of Pediatrics annual Conference and Exhibition in 2010, and meeting countless researchers, advocates, and park professionals from around the world, I became aware of the preponderance of scientific studies (over 500) that show a convincing correlation between time spent in Nature and improved physical and mental health outcomes. Spending time in nature is linked with decreased anxiety, rumination, and negative affect. Forest environments are shown to decrease cortisol levels, blood pressure, and sympathetic nervous system activity. Access to parks reduces the risk of obesity, and living in a neighborhood with more opportunities for physical activity is associated with lower risks of Type 2 diabetes. Some of the earliest studies from Japan showed that forest bathing (shinrin yoku) increases Natural killer cells, which are linked to reducing cancer risk. Living near green spaces reduces overall mortality, even when adjusted for sociodemographic factors.
I also become aware of US National Park Service’s Healthy Parks Healthy People’s concept of one health and the “park prescription”. One health is the notion that all living things are inter-related and depend on each other for each other’s wellbeing. A “park prescription” is literally a prescription to spend time in a nature-rich setting, most commonly a park. The term “park prescription” is often used synonymously with “nature prescription”.
Naturally, as a physician preoccupied with how better to help my patients with preventing and treating chronic disease, I became intrigued with the notion of actually prescribing nature to my patients and their families real time during office visits.
For the last several years, I have worked diligently to take this concept of “park prescription” and give it the structure it needs in order to standardize the prescribing of nature in the office setting. In 2017, I founded Park Rx America (PRA), a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate health professionals about the benefits of prescribing nature and to provide an electronic platform through which registered health professionals can easily locate and prescribe visits to nearby nature-rich locations. Every PRA park prescription specifies place, activity, dose, and frequency. Prescriptions are delivered via text message and with a reminder for the patient to fill his/her prescription. Our park prescribing platform also provides an easy pain-free way to document the park prescription in the medical record. By prescribing nature using our platform, clinicians can take advantage of the added clinical value of specificity, electronic reminders, and a patient/client-centered commitment to take the first step to redirect their trajectory of illness into one of health. We at Park Rx America are thrilled to partner with EIM and ACSM in our common goal of encouraging more active time in nature-rich areas. I invite you to get registered at www.ParkRxAmerica.org so you can start prescribing parks today!