Durable Human (2 book series)

Prescribing Nature for Better Health

Teen girl smiling with friends in nature woods

When it comes to improving the health of children, can prescribing a nature walk be as good as a pill? A growing number of American physicians are betting on it, especially in light of the dire state of children’s mental health.

“I prescribe nature to patients because it is the easiest way for me to get people outside,” declares Robert Zarr, a Washington, D.C. pediatrician. Zarr and other “Nature Champions” prescribe free-form outdoor exercise to their patients. A study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health finds that, though more research is needed, “Nature prescription programs offer an opportunity to connect patients with local parks and green spaces, and to capitalize on health benefits that could result.”

I listed the sorry state of U.S. inactivity in a previous post. And there’s more I learned at the national Walking Summit:  most American adults spend 90% of their time indoors, 40% of them get no leisure-time physical activity, and their kids park in front of screens 7.5 hours a day.  This has contributed to a doubling of the type 2 diabetes rate in the past fifteen years and the fact that one in three Americans—whether adult or child—weighs too much.

According to health officials, those who get outside regularly are more likely to:

  • Control their weight
  • Feel more content
  • Concentrate better and have fewer symptoms of hyperactivity

Anybody who played outside as a kid knows this intuitively, but these days spending time outdoors “doing nothing” is increasingly rare. Champions like Zarr believe the Nature Rx is the way families can strengthen, mend and heal in the restful setting of a park.  Rx for Outdoors

Here, Zarr explains how the program works and why he got on board after noticing an alarming change in his patient population:

As he continues to write nature prescriptions, Dr. Zarr plans to track in his patients’ health: body mass index; asthma rates; the number of emergency room visits; sleep patterns; and levels of anxiety, depression and happiness.

I suggested that for guidance and inspiration his families should read The Durable Human Manifesto, or at the very least “Afternoon on a Hill” by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

I will be the gladdest thing
   Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
   And not pick one.
I will look at cliffs and clouds
   With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
   And the grass rise.
And when the lights begin to show
   Up from the town,
I will mark which is mine,
   And then start down!
   Pansies_in_spring web size copyright Jenifer Joy Madden
“Afternoon on a Hill” by Edna St. Vincent Millay, from Selected Poems. ©Harper Perennial, 1991.

About the author: Jenifer Joy Madden is a certified digital wellness educator, author, TEDx speaker, and founder of DurableHuman.com.


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Wonderful post, kids do need to get off the couch! Thank you for sharing, and I posted your book link in my social networks. 🙂


Wow – what a great idea! I totally agree with Dr. Zarr about the inactivity of today’s children. I hope that his RX works for his patients and other pediatricians follow his lead.


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