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Doctors could soon be prescribing you spend more time outdoors as part of new pilot program

Last Updated Jan 18, 2021 at 6:22 pm PDT

VANCOUVER (CityNews) — Everyone knows going outside is good for your health, but it’s actually so good your doctor can write you a prescription for it.

Dr. Melissa Lem, a Physician and Clinical Assistant Professor at UBC, says under Canada’s first evidence-based nature prescription program your doctor can now write you a prescription to go outside and enjoy nature.

“I think we should really see nature as the fourth pillar of health,” she says.

The new program called PARX was launched by Lem and the B.C. Parks Foundation.

The nature prescription program recommends people spend at least two hours in nature per week, and for at least 20 minutes each outing.

“A couple of years ago, there was a fairly major meta-analysis published that looked at a number of different diseases, like hypertension, cardiovascular disease, pre-term births, mental health outcomes, and they analyzed all this and linked it to the amount of nature time and green space that people were exposed to or spend time in – and what it found was that spending time in nature significantly reduced their risk of a lot of these different diseases.”

Lem says recommendations were based on studies that found people who spent a minimum of two hours outside in nature per week reported significantly better health than those who didn’t.

According to Andy Day with the B.C. Parks Foundation, the benefit of getting some fresh air not only impacts the individual but also the economy.

“The better people feel, the clearer they feel, the more creative they feel – the more economic juice we’re going to have,” he says.

“By helping slow down and reducing the rate of the people that are suffering from different illnesses, we’re saving money on the budget side, and we’re increasing productivity and boosting our economy.”

In the United Kingdom, it’s estimated the National Health Services could save over 3.4-million Canadian dollars in treatment costs if everyone in England had equal access to good quality screen space.

As for the newest Canadian nature prescription program, Lem says it’s now getting shared with different healthcare networks.

“We’ll basically ask healthcare professionals to recognize patients who could use it, print out a customized prescription, along with a customized fact sheet. The patient will register their prescription on our website to show the prescriber that they filled it, and then be registered in our program and continue to stay in the loop of the health benefits of nature.”