By Melanie Stirling

This blog is part of a series that is working to highlight great community members.

If you knew there was a resource that has been proven to help ensure a healthier heart and immune system, reduce stress, increase brain power, and improve overall well being, what would you do? What if I told you that this resource already exists and you have free access to it? 

It’s the great outdoors.

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View of Horseshoe Bay. Photo: ap0013, Flickr.

Connecting to nature is one of the best things you can do for your health. Research shows that people who spend at least 2 hours per week in nature report significantly better health and wellbeing and that 90% of people say they’re happier when they’re outside.

This wealth of knowledge led to the creation of PaRx, an initiative of the BC Parks Foundation, Canada’s first national, evidence-based nature prescription program.

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PaRx prescription logo. Photo: PaRx.

It has officially launched in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and the Maritimes and is driven by health-care professionals, such as Dr. Melissa Lem, the Director of PaRx, who want to improve their patients’ health by connecting them to nature.

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Dr. Melissa Lem, the PaRx Director. Photo: PaRx.

This system works by practitioners writing out a prescription for their patients to engage in nature by aiming to spend at least 2 hours a week, 20+ minutes at a time, outside.

“The point of our program is for licensed healthcare professionals to prescribe nature to their patients to connect them to nature. This inspires better mental and physical well being, and also a love for the planet.” - Dr. Melissa Lem, PaRx Director

Written prescriptions have been shown to be better received than oral advice. The PaRx program allows practitioners to easily prescribe time in nature, making these prescriptions simple, fun, effective, and more likely to be followed.

“Now I have colleagues whose patients are asking them to enroll in our program so they can prescribe them nature. That’s a major shift, in that the call is coming from the patient’s side now.” - Dr. Melissa Lem, PaRx Director

With more people getting outside to help improve their overall well being, it also allows people to strengthen their connection to the outdoors. With a better connection to nature this also motivates both children and adults to protect and advocate for the environment.

“There is evidence showing that when people are more connected to nature, they’re more likely to engage in pro-environmental behaviours that go beyond conservation.” - Dr. Melissa Lem, PaRx Director

For us here at Fraser Riverkeeper, we love to connect with nature, especially water. For years, researchers and neuroscientists have been talking about the tangible benefits of spending more time on the water. Those benefits include reduced stress and anxiety and strengthened feelings of connection, meaning, and community.

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Fraser Riverkeeper staff connecting over their shared love of water while paddleboarding. Photo: Fraser Riverkeeper.

However, the translation of this knowledge from understanding to action has been challenging. A web of obstacles prevents people from spending more time outside, including lack of time, lack of information, and fear.

“We are all so busy and we often fill the spare time we have with screen based activities. When people come home after a busy day at work, they will often turn on the TV and just numb their brains that way. But I think it’s important for us to prioritize nature as part of a healthy lifestyle, to make the time for it even though we don’t have a lot of time.” - Dr. Melissa Lem, PaRx Director

The good news is that the main barriers preventing people from spending more time outside are information-related. The problem is serious, but the solution is relatively simple. They don’t know where to go, how to get there, what to do when they arrive, or how it can help both them and the environment. If we just answer people’s basic questions, their willingness to connect with nature increases. Young people, those most at risk of nature deficit disorder, become 50% more likely to go outside if they are just told where to go and how to get there.

With PaRx prescriptions providing tips for creating a nature habit, as well as how to make the most of your nature prescription, it will help to minimize these barriers by providing them with the information needed to make green tweaks to your routine, write nature into your schedule, where to go, and ultimately how to respect both nature and yourself by developing your personal connection to it, and then leading you to protect what you love in return.

“We can’t be healthy humans without a healthy planet.” - Dr. Melissa Lem, PaRx Director

PaRx prescriptions is revolutionizing the way people think of prescriptions and how to improve their well being by connecting them with nature and we couldn’t agree more with the long list of benefits from fostering a connection with the outdoors. We hope you take advantage of this new offering to improve your well being while also bettering your connection with nature, as this connection not only helps you, but also Mother Nature herself.

 

Sources

  1. Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and wellbeing | Scientific Reports
  2. PaRx: A Prescription for Nature - About

Melanie is Fraser Riverkeeper's Communications Specialist. Having graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor’s in Natural Resources Conservation, she has a passion for protecting and advocating for our world’s natural resources and wildlife. She grew up spending summers by the lake, developing her affinity for water and enhancing her understanding and appreciation of our waterways and their vital connection to all life. She is eager to make a positive impact in the conservation world by adopting an inclusive approach to support a rich culture of water stewardship. Melanie’s watermark is Otter Lake, Ontario.

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