A prescription worth filling: nature

Birds Hill Park Trail. Photo by Olateju Ogunfowora.

A new prescription for better health is now available to Manitobans, and it doesn’t come in a bottle.

Originating as an initiative by the B.C. Parks Foundation, PaRx is a nature prescribing program. Simply put, any licensed health care provider can prescribe “nature” to their patients.

“It’s Canada’s first evidence-based nature prescription program and we support clinicians across the country to help prescribe nature to their patients,” said Anna Reed, Manitoba launch coordinator for PaRx.  “Research actually tells us that patients are more likely to adhere to something, or do it, if it’s actually prescribed to them so it’s an actual written prescription.”

What the prescription entails varies from patient to patient and begins as a conversation with a person’s health care provider.

Ultimately, it is up to the patient. For some, connecting to nature could be a hike and for others it might be sitting on a park bench and taking it all in.

“What we recommend is that you do at least two hours a week but it’s up to you how you connect to nature,” said Reed.

The benefits of a nature prescription are many. Reed said it can increase energy and lifespan, decrease anxiety and improve heart health.

A positive side effect to reconnecting with nature is nature conservation. Reed said research has shown that people who connect to nature are more likely to protect it, an important aspect as the world is facing challenges related to climate change.

The prescription provider could be one of many but includes physicians, nurses, social workers and pharmacists. Not all clinicians are signed up and, for others, it might just be a conversation.

PaRx was launched in Manitoba this week thanks to Reed, a PhD student at University of Toronto, who got involved in planetary health issues in graduate school. Her interest in the program grew after meeting Dr. Melissa Lem, the PaRx director.

The program’s uptake has been growing, according to Reed, with about 1,000 prescribed in British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan and, now, Manitoba. Its success may have something to do with the pandemic.

“The safest place throughout COVID has been to be outside. So, for the patients and clinicians who have started along this process I think it’s been received really well because our connection to nature is growing,” Reed said.

After a summer of organizing, the Manitoba launch of PaRx occured this week and included a diverse group of health care organizations, occupational and physical therapists, nurses, nurse practitioners, family doctors and pharmacists.

Clinicians can sign up online and get a prescription pad and start writing them.

“Get outside, talk to your clinician, your nurse and get prescribed nature,” said Reed. “This is good for your health and good for the planet.”