Nature, the Ultimate Prescription

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by Jenni Binford Jenni Binford (New)

Specializes in Med/surg, oncology, telemetry staff RN. Has 32 years experience.

The health benefits of spending time in nature are vast and unique. “Park Rx America” is a non-profit, online health treatment program created by a physician for all physicians to use. Studies have proven the considerable benefits of spending time in nature and Doctors find that prescribing their patients activities in parks and other green spaces, is a successful way to get them outdoors and on their way to healthy living.

If your doctor gave you a prescription to “get outside!” would you?

Nature, the Ultimate Prescription

Dr. Robert Zarr, a pediatrician in Washington DC, started the "Park RX America" program in 2017 to encourage physicians across the country to prescribe getting out in nature for their patients. It has been long known that being out in the fresh air is good for our bodies. When people are outside, they are active, they are moving. Whether it is at a park, walking a trail in the woods, alongside a rushing river, or watching ducks swimming on a lake, the act of being in nature gives the body a boost. Our senses take in the sights, sounds and smells that are only present when you are out of doors and the “feel good” endorphins kick in. Dr. Zarr has seen remarkable physical and psychological benefits from his patients spending as little as 20 minutes a day outside in the fresh air, in a green space, or anywhere that has open areas to connect with nature.

Why a Prescription? 

Dr. Zarr found that writing an actual prescription for his patients to spend time out of doors in nature, works much better than just telling them to do so. The prescription is a familiar part of medical treatment containing a doctor's order for their patient. A prescription isn’t a suggestion or a helpful hint, it is a medical directive to promote the health of the patient. Receiving a prescription is a part of the doctor/patient relationship and a common part of a treatment plan. The prescription carries weight, something is getting done, it's a tangible move to wellness, and it works!

The Benefits of Nature on the Body 

 Whether we are walking, jogging, or just sitting on a park bench enjoying the sunshine, our body is in its natural element and is affected positively in many ways. Blood pressure and heart rates are lowered, stress and anxiety lessen, focus becomes clearer, memory improves, and healing is happening at a higher rate than it does indoors. Not only does sunlight produce the Vitamin D that our bodies so greatly need, but it has also been shown to boost the immune system by increasing the production of infection-fighting T-cells. Spending just a short period of time outside is incredibly beneficial to people regardless of the activity, it's all about getting outside and into natural spaces.  

Patient Involvement is Key 

Writing a prescription for time spent in nature actively involves the patient. The physician opens a dialogue about being outdoors and the benefits of spending time in nature. Mutual decisions are made about the type of activity that is appropriate for the patient and the place in which it will occur. It’s important that the patient feels comfortable in the setting, that this is a safe and familiar area for them. The activity could be anything as rigorous as jogging, or simply walking to a bench and sitting quietly in a park. The frequency and duration of the activity are included in the script, and it becomes part of the patient's treatment plan. Writing an actual prescription ensures a higher rate of follow thru by the patient. Not only is the nature time seen as part of the patient's treatment plan, but it can also be adjusted as needed to continue to further health benefits.  

Park RX America 

Physicians can easily enroll in Park RX America. It’s an online platform that shows local area parks and trails, has prescription forms to fill out and is interactive for both the patient and physician. 

This nature prescription plan allows for patients to take responsibility for making healthy choices and to have an active role in their health care. The benefits are numerous, not only the physical and mental health gains but also the feeling of accomplishment that comes with checking off a completed exercise on the interactive Park RX America site. Knowledge is powerful and a patient's ability to feel the positive results of a treatment that they helped plan rewards both patient and physician. 


Your next doctor's prescription might be to spend time in nature

Associations between Nature Exposure and Health: A Review of the Evidence

Sunlight offers surprise benefit: It energizes infection fighting T cells

Park RX America (PRA)

Jenni Binford

Jenni Binford RN is a freelance Healthcare writer with 30 years of direct patient care. She specializes in Geriatric Health, Mental Health and Oncology

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7 Comment(s)

CommunityRNBSN

CommunityRNBSN, BSN, RN

Specializes in Community health. Has 4 years experience. 815 Posts

I was thinking about something like this today. I am doing a clinical rotation with a child psychiatrist. He’s seen several teenagers recently who are depressed and anxious. He always tells them: “I’ll give you medicine which is part of the battle. But the other half is that you need to make yourself do things like meet up with your friends, or go for a walk, or hang out with your family.”  The patients nod but of course it’s easier said than done and nothing really changes. I wish I could just wave a wand and send them on a hiking trail for an hour! 

HiddenAngels

HiddenAngels

Has 8 years experience. 430 Posts

I’m always outside anyway so I absolutely would use that prescription!

HiddenAngels

HiddenAngels

Has 8 years experience. 430 Posts

13 hours ago, CommunityRNBSN said:

I was thinking about something like this today. I am doing a clinical rotation with a child psychiatrist. He’s seen several teenagers recently who are depressed and anxious. He always tells them: “I’ll give you medicine which is part of the battle. But the other half is that you need to make yourself do things like meet up with your friends, or go for a walk, or hang out with your family.”  The patients nod but of course it’s easier said than done and nothing really changes. I wish I could just wave a wand and send them on a hiking trail for an hour! 

I think a lot of us have phone friends, and to some people that’s all they have, and sometimes it’s just not real. I want to be able to see hang out eat and touch my friends.  It’s something when you can’t sit down and laugh/vent/cry with an actual human being. Nature is a huge part but I think we need to be able to have actual human connections.

CommunityRNBSN

CommunityRNBSN, BSN, RN

Specializes in Community health. Has 4 years experience. 815 Posts

4 hours ago, HiddenAngels said:

I think a lot of us have phone friends, and to some people that’s all they have, and sometimes it’s just not real. I want to be able to see hang out eat and touch my friends.  It’s something when you can’t sit down and laugh/vent/cry with an actual human being. Nature is a huge part but I think we need to be able to have actual human connections.

Yes, I think it's complicated.  My best friend (we've known each other since we were 3 and we are 40 now) hasn't lived near me in decades.  We've both moved a lot and she currently lives overseas.  Our relationship is almost entirely texting, which we do dozens of times a day. Once every few years we  may be able to swing a weekend together. That is absolutely a "real" friendship-- she is my best friend and knows me better than almost anyone else in my life.  However, I also agree that texting her doesn't satisfy my need for real human interaction.  It is really important to my health to talk to people face-to-face, in person.  It would be great if the face-to-face people and the "closest friends" people were the same group!  I think for a lot of us, they are different, but both groups are important.

Nancy Ross Bell

Nancy Ross Bell, RN

Specializes in Nurse Writer, Managed Care, Quality. Has 48 years experience. 1 Article; 3 Posts

Great article!

RN WRITER NC, ADN

Specializes in Nursing challenges, Alzheimer's disease, Dementia. Has 16 years experience. 3 Articles; 20 Posts

Thank you so much for the reminder.  I have been so busy that my only exercise is at work and at the mailbox!  Pretty sad indeed, but soon to change.  I am a Taurus by birth and find peace when my feet are touching the earth!

Jenni Binford

Jenni Binford

Specializes in Med/surg, oncology, telemetry staff RN. Has 32 years experience. 1 Article; 8 Posts

Thank you for your response! I’m glad you found some inspiration (nudge) reminder about the benefits of getting outdoors and into nature. 

I’m a Taurus too! Go figure! 😉