Canadian doctors can now prescribe national park visits to improve their patients’ health
Humans didn’t evolve to stare at screens for an average of 10 hours a day. We evolved to hunt and gather on the plains, not to walk on asphalt or spend our days in high-rise buildings changing the colors of pixels on a computer screen.
So it’s understandable that modern humans suffer in some way or another from a lack of connection to nature. We may not feel a conscious disconnect from nature but it definitely has a negative impact on our mental and physical well-being. We know this because being in nature has shown to have an incredible therapeutic value that researchers are just beginning to understand.
Health officials in Canada are starting to take note of these benefits and have launched a new program that allows its doctors to prescribe free annual passes to the country’s national parks to improve their patients’ well-being.
In the past, Canada’s doctors have prescribed spending time in nature, but this is the first time they’ve been able to hand out year-long passes that work across its national park system.
The program is called PaRx and was launched by the BC Parks Foundation in partnership with Parks Canada.
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“Given the growing body of evidence that indicates nature time can improve all kinds of different physical and mental health conditions, we’re hoping that our PaRx program not only improves patient health, but reduces costs to the healthcare system, and helps to grow the number of people who are more engaged environmental advocates,” Prama Rahman, a coordinator for the BC Parks Foundation’s Healthy By Nature Program, told NPR.
There are similar programs in the United States but because the U.S. has a privatized healthcare system they vary based on location and provider.
The more we study the connection between our health and access to nature, the clearer the connection becomes.
“There is mounting evidence, from dozens and dozens of researchers, that nature has benefits for both physical and psychological human well being,” says Lisa Nisbet, Ph.D., a psychologist at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, according to the American Psychological Association.
“You can boost your mood just by walking in nature, even in urban nature. And the sense of connection you have with the natural world seems to contribute to happiness even when you’re not physically immersed in nature,” she said.
Studies show that being connected to nature is associated with improved memory, cognitive flexibility and the ability to maintain focus.
There are three different theories that attempt to explain the health benefits of being in nature. The biophilia hypothesis argues that because we evolved in wild settings and relied on the environment for survival, we have an innate need to connect with nature.
The stress reduction hypothesis backs the idea that spending time in nature triggers a physiological response that lowers stress levels.
Finally, the attention restoration theory holds that nature replenishes our cognitive resources, improving our attention and concentration.
It’s a little funny that after all of these years, we’re starting to realize that we have a special connection to nature and that spending time in the environment in which we originally flourished is important for our own sense of well-being. Kudos to Canada for taking things a step further and making it part of its commitment to health.
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