Spending time outdoors can offer myriad health benefits. In young children, exposure to trees can boost brain development and foster creativity. For adults, daily steps can help stave off early mortality; meanwhile, sun exposure provides vitamin D and lower anxiety rates. While these health benefits have been documented for decades, only recently have doctors been able to actually prescribe them. A new program allows Canadian doctors to write prescriptions for free annual passes to Canada's National Parks, encouraging their patients to reap nature's rewards.
The prescriptions are made available by the organization PaRX in partnership with Parks Canada. In January 2022, annual passes were made available for the first time. A typical doctor's order might be to get “two hours a week, at least 20 minutes at a time,” according to PaRx director Dr. Melissa Lem as quoted in The Washington Post. Organizers hope the prescriptions will not only provide health benefits but also encourage increased investment in protecting natural resources.
Currently the passes are being distributed in four Canadian provinces. However, doctors in other regions—including the U.S.—are prescribing time outdoors. ParkRx is a 10-year old American organization dedicated to collaboration between health care providers, parks, and communities. The organization recognizes that access to the outdoors is not equal, though. Income, age, and disability are all factors which may play a role in transportation, available activities, and location in relation to green space. While the Canadian doctors participating in PaRX have only 100 annual passes to give out at present, many hope the organization will expand to bring health and nature to all.