24-Hour Crisis Hotline: (877)SAFEGBC or (877)723-3422 Mental Health & Substance Abuse Issues

6502 Nursery Drive, Suite 100
Victoria, TX 77904
Fax: (361)578-5500
Regular Hours: M-Fri 8am - 5pm
Every 3rd Thurs of the Month - Extended Hours Until 7 pm

Wellness and Personal Development
Basic InformationLatest News
Even a Little Light in Your Bedroom Could Harm HealthWant Respect at Work? Ditch the EmojisAs Clocks Spring Forward, Keep Sleep on TrackSleep Experts Call for End to Twice-a-Year Time ChangesHigh Anxiety: Poll Finds Americans Stressed by Inflation, WarYour Houseplants May Help You Breathe EasierAHA News: Ready to 'Spring Forward'? Ease Into the Time Change With These 9 Health TipsSome Americans Gained Better Habits During Pandemic, Poll FindsStressed Out by Ukraine News? Experts Offer Coping TipsBegin Now to Protect Your Heart as Clocks 'Spring Forward'AHA News: Break Up Binge-Watching by Taking a StandApps: They Help Manage Health Conditions, But Few Use Them, Poll FindsLifestyle Factors Key to Keeping Good Vision With AgeExercise Helps You Sleep, But Which Workout Is Best?Fitbit Recalls Over 1 Million Smartwatches Due to Burn HazardAHA News: Understanding 'Black Fatigue' – And How to Overcome ItPandemic Didn't Dent Americans' Optimism, Polls FindHuman Brain Doesn't Slow Down Until After 60AHA News: Does Kindness Equal Happiness and Health?Apps Can Help Keep Older Folks Healthy — But Most Don't Use ThemAHA News: Want a Healthier Valentine's Day? More Hugs and KissesStudy Hints That Cutting Daily Calories Could Extend Healthy Life SpanHow Healthy Is Your State? New Federal Data Ranks EachMidwinter Blues Could Be SAD: An Expert Guide to TreatmentsSpice Up Your Meal to Avoid More SaltSearching for Good Sleep? Here's What You're Doing Right - and WrongPandemic Worsening Americans' Already Terrible Sleep, Poll Finds​AHA News: Fine-Tune Your Health With These 5 Music IdeasMelatonin's Popularity Rises, Along With Hidden DangersAHA News: Healthy Living Could Offset Genetics and Add Years Free of Heart DiseaseCould Everyday Plastics Help Make You Fat?Take These Winter Workout Tips to HeartStay Safe When Winter Storms Cut Your PowerAHA News: Sound the Fiber Alarm! Most of Us Need More of It in Our DietExtra 10 Minutes of Daily Activity Could Save 110,000 U.S. Lives AnnuallyWinter Blues? It Could Be SADOrdering Groceries Online? Good Luck Finding Nutrition InfoBinge-Watching Could Raise Your Blood Clot RiskDon't Snow Shovel Your Way to a Heart AttackCelebrities' Social Media Promotes Junk Food, Often for FreeWill Reading Books Make You Any Happier?Zoom Meeting Anxiety Doesn't Strike EveryoneDid Adding Calorie Counts to Restaurant Menus Make Meals Healthier?AHA News: Here's to a Fresh Start With Whatever You Do in '22Do You Have 'COVID-somnia'? These Sleep Tips Might HelpMake 2022 Your Year for a Free Memory ScreeningNew Year's Resolution? Here's How to Make it Stick12 Steps to the Best Holiday Gift: HealthAmericans Turning to Trendy Diets to Shed Pandemic PoundsAHA News: Can the Cold Really Make You Sick?
Related Topics

Anger Management
Stress Reduction and Management

AHA News: Your Next Doctor's Prescription Might Be to Spend Time in Nature

HealthDay News
by American Heart Association News
Updated: Oct 18th 2021

new article illustration

MONDAY, Oct. 18, 2021 (American Heart Association News) -- Dr. Robert Zarr loves to write prescriptions that you don't have to take to the pharmacy.

Instead, he sends patients outside to soak in the healing powers of nature, combining the benefits of exercise with the therapeutic effects of fresh air and green space.

"Going back millions of years, we've evolved outdoors," said Zarr, a pediatrician who recently relocated to Ottawa, Canada, from Washington, D.C. "Why should we exist indoors? We need to be outdoors. The health benefits of being in nature are obvious."

The idea isn't new. The 16th century Swiss physician Paracelsus declared that "the art of healing comes from nature, not from the physician." In Japan, public health experts promote shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, as a key to physical and psychological health.

The premise is backed up with science. A 2018 meta-analysis in the journal Environmental Research reviewed more than 140 studies and found exposure to green space was associated with wide-ranging health benefits, including lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and lower rates of diabetes, stroke, asthma, heart disease and overall death.

In a 2020 study in Frontiers of Psychology, researchers analyzed 14 studies involving college students and concluded that as little as 10 minutes of sitting or walking in natural settings reduced stress and improved mental health.

"There's an increasing amount of evidence that time in nature as opposed to time in an indoor environment is beneficial," said Donald Rakow, associate professor at Cornell University's School of Integrative Plant Science in Ithaca, New York, and one of the 2020 study's authors. "Being out in nature is not going to solve every mental or physical condition, but it really can be part of an overall treatment approach."

The Environmental Research analysis called for more studies to establish why nature promotes better health, but suggested several possibilities, including the benefits of sunlight, the idea that microorganisms in nature can strengthen our immune systems and the mere fact that being outside encourages physical activity.

Zarr didn't need more convincing. What he wanted was a way to get doctors and their patients to take the health benefits of nature more seriously. So in 2017 he founded Park Rx America, a nonprofit that encourages health care professionals to incorporate nature into their treatment plans.

"Prescribing nature is not part of our training," he said. "And then the environment we work in is often so sterile. Doctors don't get much time outdoors during the day, so maybe it's not on our minds."

Why an actual prescription?

"It does make a difference," Zarr said. "The likelihood of doing what you intend to do goes up when you write it down. And the Rx symbol is universal. It's an easy way for people to relate."

Park Rx America has signed up more than 1,000 health care providers and partnered with other organizations to promote the strategy. Its website provides a prescription template, but one size doesn't fit all.

Rather than assign an activity and a location, Zarr and his colleagues ask patients what they can do and like to do, whether it's sitting on a bench or running a marathon, before writing it up.

"If they say, 'I see myself eating lunch outside,' I say, 'OK, let's start there,'" he said. "It might be the only time they breathe fresh air. Over time we'll change the prescription."

At Cornell, where academic rigor leads to stress, the health clinic encourages students to spend more time outside and incorporate nature prescriptions into their electronic health records.

"It really makes a difference," said Rakow, who co-directs a network of more than two dozen colleges around the country implementing similar programs. "Whether it's an antibiotic or nature, people are much more inclined to follow up when they know that their health professional has prescribed it."

Both experts are confident the trend is growing and that the bad effects of COVID-19 – more time indoors, anxiety, weight gain, to name a few – underscore the need and the desire to get outside.

"The pandemic really firmed up my opinions on this," Zarr said. "It's put a strain on everyone. We need to get out of the virtual world and go outdoors."

Rakow hopes for an awakening similar to what he saw during the years he directed the Cornell Botanic Gardens.

"Each year at the reunions, alumni would visit and ask, 'When did they build this?'" he said. "I would tell them, 'It's always been here.'"

American Heart Association News covers heart and brain health. Not all views expressed in this story reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. If you have questions or comments about this story, please email editor@heart.org.

By Michael Precker