Your next prescription = spending time in parks?
Updated: Sep 24, 2019
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American spends only 7% of their entire life outdoors. In contrast, medical studies have proven that being outside is tremendously beneficial to human health. Ailments such as depression, anxiety, obesity, cancer, heart disease and stress (among other illnesses) can be fully or partially healed by spending time outdoors. So why aren't we prescribing the medicine of nature if its healing properties are scientifically proven?
Well, we are happy to report, American doctors have begun to prescribe time in nature as an actual prescription. Yes, seriously!
Are American doctor’s really prescribing outdoor time?
We recently had a chance to chat with Dr. Laura Fox, DO with the Family Care Network. Dr. Laura Fox has been prescribing outdoor "park time" for the last two year (approximately). Using an intuitive tool kit developed by Park RX https://www.parkrx.org/, Dr. Fox can customize outdoor prescriptions for her patients based not only on their ailments but by their lifestyles as well.
What is the Park Prescription Program?
We asked Dr. Fox about her Park Prescription experience with her patients. She said that her patients seem to respond positively to the idea. Among the many beneficial aspects of prescribing time outdoors, it was interesting to learn that the Park RX program enables doctors to customize their Park Prescriptions based on their patients' lifestyles and locations. Dr. Fox noted that patients really responded positively to prescriptions customized specifically to them.
By entering a patient's home or work address and through a few questions about a patient's lifestyle, the Park RX program’s database identifies parks that are located in convenient locations to the patient and lists recreational opportunities tailored to make getting outside as easy as possible. For example, if a patient mentions they have an hour-long lunch break during the work-day, Dr. Fox can prescribe outdoor-time at a specific geo-located park nearby a patient’s place of work. Does the patient have a dog? If so, Dr. Fox can identify trails or dog parks that get both the patient and fido outside. Patients enjoy the customized approach fostering a sense of individual well-being that traditional pharmaceutical prescriptions often do not provide.
So do Park Prescriptions Work?
Dr. Fox and her fellow physicians at her medical practice at the Family Care Network feel that the park prescriptions are working, but that their treatments are often coupled with traditional pharmaceutical or therapy prescriptions to address patients various ailments making definite results a difficult to scientifically identify. Backed by scientific research that the spending time outdoors provides beneficial health effects and the knowledge that prescribing park time has no side effects, many doctors are signing up, even if the results are not explicit. Spending time outside can only help, so why not try it?
Dr. Fox’s colleague, Dr. Greg Anderson was recently interviewed by King 5 news to describe his experience with Park RX. Even famous people are giving Park RX a try. One of Dr. Anderson's patients, comedian Ryan Stiles is trying out “park time” to reduce anxiety. To watch the interview, visit King 5 news at this link: https://www.king5.com/article/news/health/doctors-prescribe-natures-over-drugs/281-80ced5ef-ab61-4c74-837c-56d8187be32e
How does Park RX related to Landscape Architecture and Planning?
When speaking with Dr. Laura Fox, she was interested that as landscape architects and planners, that we as a company are intrigued by the Park RX program. I shared that in many cases public open spaces are underfunded and are frequently subject to drastic budget cuts that result in streets without street trees, incomplete trail routes and bike lanes, parks with minimal play equipment and a general lack of public space maintenance.
If we can connect medicine with public space infrastructure, there are billions of dollars that could potentially shift from traditional prescriptions to open spaces for all. Additionally, as designers of open spaces, we can learn from the specific needs of the medical community to create public places that combat specific health ailments.
When I asked Dr. Fox if there is anything she could think of that would improve the Park RX health benefits specific to design solutions, she offered two ideas. One, connectivity is huge. Safe walking opportunities to schools; trails for walking/biking that are safe and accessible. Allowing safe and convenient ways to get to parks, schools, and recreational opportunities allows people to skip driving and into nature more frequently which increases the benefits of exposure to nature.
Secondly, teenagers continue to be a challenge. Open/public spaces often don’t engage teens. Yet, teenagers are one of the population groups who are suffering an alarming increase in ailments that the Park RX program can help to remedy such as anxiety, depression and stress reduction. Not surprisingly, the increase of these ailments may provide a significant indicator as to why the second leading cause of death in teenagers is now suicide. This segment of the population is entering a health crisis and a focus on designing for age groups from 13 - 22 could not only improve human health, it could save lives.
In a separate conversation, we recently had the opportunity to speak with a public health expert. When we asked what type of elements could increase health opportunities in public spaces, she suggested that allowing for “risk play” for older children and teenagers would be beneficial to increasing public health.
These conversations made us wonder, as design profession, how can we increase or ability to engage everyone, especially teenagers in public space? In order to make programs like Park RX as beneficial as possible, the design community should take an interdisciplinary approach with the medical community and public health officials to make the most of our public space infrastructure. As professional leaders in nature-based design, we have the knowledge and the skills to significantly improve human health and need to push harder to create comprehensively healthy places.
The next time you are at the doctor, ask your provider if he/she is participating in the Park RX program. If so, try out a prescription and write us to let us know your results. We would love to hear about your experience.
If you are a landscape architect, designer, architect, or planner, check out the Park RX program and keep in mind engaging everyone, especially teenage populations in your public space designs has innumerable positive health effect. Continue design activism efforts to fight for more open spaces, trails, parks, and safe walking routes as well!
Nature has been scientifically proven to heal. With the support of medical providers such as Dr. Laura Fox and Dr. Greg Anderson, among hundreds of other medical providers, we can learn tremendous amount from an interdisciplinary approach to get people outside and healthy. So let's do just that.
Interested in learning more? Here are just a few resources:
For a personal consultation to learn how your community can benefit from designing public spaces, please contact us at https://www.ekologidesign.com/contact
For articles/online resources:
Article regarding Park RX in Washington State
Science's Newest Miracle Drug Is Free
American Society of Landscape Architects
Science Daily recently announced that “It's official -- spending time outside is good for you.” https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180706102842.htm.
PBS Article: “Suicide among teens and young adults reaches highest level since 2000”
Harvard University outlines specific benefits of spending time outside. https://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/spending-time-outdoors-is-good-for-you . The
University of Washington also has studied the positive mental health effects of spending time outdoors. https://www.washington.edu/news/2019/07/24/how-to-consider-natures-impact-on-mental-health-in-city-plans/?utm_source=UW+News+Subscribers&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=UW_Today&mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWXpZd1lqWXlNbVl6WVRVeiIsInQiOiJjK2RBcWxqRjlPeWJtdEtzaThcL083Sk9FU25XUkR5TmlDYkMyVUFJdUM2ZWx4MVllRjNkU2VGK3FtanZSSTYzM2lqbFBMd1Q3TVBlUlc5TWYwanhibUY3Y212aUlZRVZPUENPRVFaTE9iZHk5UWlnc1wvTTZ4TVVGbHZ4SjQ2c3JoIn0%3D