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.
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.