New Rx From Canadian Docs: Date With Mother Nature

Canadian doctors can prescribe free yearlong pass to 80 national parks, historic sites to boost health
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 2, 2022 11:29 AM CST
New Rx From Canadian Docs: Free National-Parks Pass
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/RM Nunes)

Just what the doctor ordered: a stroll through your local national park. That's the new prescription that patients in several Canadian provinces might now receive from health care professionals, thanks to a program being backed by Parks Canada. The Squamish Chief reports the government agency has joined PaRx: A Prescription for Nature, an initiative with the goal of drawing patients into the great outdoors for at least two hours per week. Part of the treatment program is a free yearlong pass that offers participants access to more than 80 national parks, historical sites, and marine conservation venues in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Manitoba.

The Squamish Chief notes that spending time in nature has been shown to alleviate mental and physical health issues, including anxiety, diabetes, high blood pressure, and lung disease. Side effects from taking part in PaRx include, per the program's site: elevated mood, more energy, less stress, better heart health, and an expanded life span. The prescription idea, meanwhile, derives from the fact that people seem to be more apt to follow directives if they're written down. "We need to reduce barriers to nature," says Dr. Melissa Lem, a Vancouver family physician and director of the PaRx program. The pass "makes the message even more powerful and easier to follow."

Although it's already free for kids 17 and under to access these parks, adults typically pay $72.25 (around $57 in USD) for an annual pass. "We're asking prescribers to prioritize people where the cost of the pass might be a barrier to accessing nature, and also people who live close to those national parks," Lem tells CTV News. Next on the program's to-do list: expand the program nationwide, as well as tackle transportation issues that might keep people away from parks; the possibility of offering free rides to parks is one option on the table. "Nature prescriptions really do have the potential to revolutionize how we think about the role of outdoor spaces in our health," says Lem, adding her group hopes that nature will join diet, sleep, and exercise to become the fourth "pillar" in keeping disease at bay and "promoting well-being." (More national parks stories.)

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