Why some health-care professionals in Canada are prescribing nature to patients

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Health professionals prescribing nature time
WATCH: A growing number of health professional across the country are writing a new kind of prescription – one that doesn’t need to be filled at a pharmacy. Shelley Steeves reports on a program where doctors prescribe time in nature. – Aug 29, 2023

A growing number of health professionals in Canada are writing a new kind of prescription that doesn’t need to be filled at a pharmacy.

“I think that it is one of the simplest and easier prescriptions that a doctor could do,” said nature guide Heather Fraser, who owns Exploring Nature’s Bounty in Moncton, N.B.

PaRx is Canada’s national nature prescription program, which was launched in B.C. in 2020, said Dr. Melissa Lem, its director. The initiative was started by the BC Parks Foundation and is being supported by health-care professionals who want to improve their patients’ health by connecting them to nature, she said.

The program has since spread to every province in the country, recruiting more than 11,000 health professionals across Canada who are now recommending nature time to their patients, Lem said.

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“Whether you are a doctor, nurse, physiotherapist or psychologist, you can literally prescribe nature time to improve your patients’ health,” she said.

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Health-care providers in Canada are prescribing 30,000 scripts per month, according to Lem.

Her recommendation is to spend at least two hours in nature per week, with sessions lasting at least 20 minutes at a time.

Fraser said she is eager to get involved in the program in New Brunswick by taking patients out for their dose of nature therapy.

“It is that serenity, that peace; it takes away all the stress. When you are out here, you can be quiet if you want. The birds are in the trees, too. It is the sound and peacefulness that you have when you are out in nature,” Fraser said.

The health benefits of getting grounded in nature, according to Lem, are widespread and lead to improved physical and mental health.

“From improved blood pressure to better cholesterol, better diabetes control to improved prenatal outcomes, better development and ADHD symptoms in kids, spending time in nature is one of the best things we can do for our health across a wide number of conditions. This is backed up by hundreds of studies spanning several decades,” she said.

PaRx is hoping to launch an app later this year, enabling patients who have been prescribed nature to track their time in the woods and monitor resulting health benefits, Lem said.

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Fraser, who swears by the positive effects of nature, says, “I don’t know if the trees exude wellness themselves, but I know when I am out in them, the trees give me something.”

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