Get outside, feel better, be happier and more fulfilled that’s the message from the health care professionsals – and they’re now even giving prescriptions for it.
Everyone knows how much better you feel when you go for a walk in the woods, hills or even just sit down next to a waterfall. Whatever is ‘in the air’ just makes you feel more alive, even happier. Now some scientists and doctors are looking closer into the connection between your health and the great outdoors, with some even prescribing what is often called “outdoor prescriptions”, or simply get outside for some “Vitamin Air”.
New research has also found that living within walking distance to urban green space is associated with improved feelings of happiness, self-worth, and life satisfaction. So choose your next apartment wisely. Researchers from The University of Warwick, Newcastle University, and The University of Sheffield (in the UK) put together the first-ever study that demonstrated the association between nature and green areas and individual mental wellbeing. The findings were published in the journal of Applied Geography.
One major discovery: living close to natural green spaces is more important to your mental health than how much money you make, employment, and overall health.
To determine that living near greenery has striking benefits on the individual, researchers used data from 25,518 people to find the exact distance that Londoners needed to live near green space to have significantly better mental wellbeing.
Ultimately, the sweet spot was green spaces within 300 meters (about .18 of a mile) of a person’s home. That distance was determined to have the biggest effect on an individual’s wellbeing. And the bigger, the better: an increase of just under 2.5 acres of greenery within 300 meters of a person’s home was linked with an 8% increase in life satisfaction, a 7% increase in self-worth, and a 5% increase in happiness.
Here in the US, the idea that being outdoors can be good for your health is being promoted via Park Rx America a non-profit organization whose mission is to “decrease the burden of chronic disease, increase health and happiness, and foster environmental stewardship, by virtue of prescribing Nature during the routine delivery of healthcare by a diverse group of health care professionals”.
They work closely with managers of publicly-accessible land and water, as well as directly with healthcare professionals and their respective organizations, to “make it easy” to prescribe parks and other protected areas to their patients real-time in the clinical practice setting. To date, Park Rx America has incorporated nearly 10,000 parks into its prescribing platform in 46 states and Mexico, with nearly 500 registered “prescribers” nationwide. PRA has 90 parks in TN alone. parkrxamerica.org
“The data is there. We’re wired to be connected to nature,” said Dr Brent Bauer of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. “Cool things happen when you’re exposed to nature for two hours a week — inflammation is reduced, stress, anxiety, heart rate.” A formal mechanism, Bauer said, makes it easier for patients to follow through, and sends the message that being outdoors is legitimate therapy. “A prescription says, ‘My doctor recommended this; it’s not a waste of time.’
To get people ‘hooked’ on the outdoors and it’s health benefits an organization called Kids in Parks was formed. Kids in Parks is a network of family-friendly outdoor adventures called TRACK Trails. “Each TRACK Trail features self-guided brochures and signs that turn your visit into a fun and exciting outdoors experience. Best of all, you can earn prizes for tracking your adventures!” Say the organizers. More at www.kidsinparks.com
Over the past few decades, people have become increasingly disengaged with nature, spending less time in our parks and outdoor places, while spending more time “plugged-in” to electronic media. Recent studies show that on average kids spend 7.65 hours per day “plugged-in” and only an average of seven minutes per day in unstructured outdoor play. The Kids in Parks program grew out of a vision to address these trends by getting kids “unplugged” and physically active in parks for their health and the health of our parks.
Recent studies show that on average kids spend 7.65 hours per day “plugged-in” and only an average of seven minutes per day in unstructured outdoor play.
In Tennessee, we have: ‘Healthy Parks, Healthy Person TN’ which is in the business of “making sure everyone has the opportunity to get outdoors and active. Via the use of an App, you can set goals, reach targets and be rewarded. The app is created for all ages and abilities. No matter if you are climbing a sheer cliff, or taking a walk or roll down a park road, the point values are the same. The goal is simply to get you to get outside and get active! Visit: healthyparkstn.com
Jamie Langley a Smyrna based Child and Family Therapist is a great believer in the concept of Park Rx and has been ‘prescribing’ for her local Healthy Parks, Healthy TN program for two years. She told PURE Living Nashville, “We are all concerned about the amount of ‘screen time’ among children, so we developed a “Nature Play Therapy” approach to help exchange ‘screen time for green time’, the Healthy Parks Healthy TN program gives children the chance to earn points and get rewards”. Sadly she adds, “so many children don’t know what to do outside, and with many younger parents brought up on video games, they are not in a position to help. So to give them some ideas we give them a Nature Kit containing a magnifying glass, tweezers etc to help them investigate the great outdoors”.
Langley reports that “after some initial confusion, once patients have experienced mixing with Nature they like it-the feedback we get is very positive. We just need to let kids get messy!” In the two years, she’s been involved, Langley has written out about 50 prescriptions, and is now working to get more local parks involved in the scheme. (More info on Nature Play Therapy: Jamie Langley: 615 267 0779).
Some might say that it is a depressing day when children (and adults) have to be incentivized to get some fresh air and exercise. But with research showing the negative aspects of too much screen time – at any age-these programs may well be what’s required to ‘break the screen time and get some more green time’, before a generation grows up with no connection to Nature. One further consequence of this disconnect is that the need for Conservation and Preservation of our Natural resources will be falling on deaf ears as children grow up have never appreciated the benefits and joys to be found outside their front door.