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How Nature Can Help Physical & Mental Conditions

An edited expert from Returning to Our Roots: How Nature Prescriptions Can Help Patients - Medscape - Mar 18, 2022.

Nature and human health are linked today more than ever. In recent years, many studies have shown the simple act of spending time interacting with and being in nature can have significant benefits for mental and physical health. US citizens spend 90% of their time indoors, and another 6% in enclosed vehicles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

People who live in urban areas are 20% more likely to develop an anxiety disorder and 40% more likely to develop a mood disorder than people in rural areas. And the risk of schizophrenia is twice as high for those born and raised in cities. There is no known reason why urbanites suffer from such heightened mental health risks, but a lack of exposure to nature could play a role.

Incorporating Nature Into Healthcare

The clinical context of a nature prescription, combined with evidence of the associated health benefits, adds structure and clarity to the nebulous advice to "go outside." Like any other prescription, nature prescriptions are intentional and specific about the form, quantity, and frequency of the recommended "dosage."

Nature prescription initiatives such as Park Rx partner with community organizations, healthcare providers, and parks and public land agencies to incorporate nature into healthcare delivery. In 2020, the Institute at the Golden Gate reported that there were more than 100 park prescription programs across the United States.

Like a single green salad or a pilates class, spending 10 minutes on a park bench will not miraculously cure an illness. But over time, like a nutritious diet and regular exercise, sufficient exposure to nature may be a powerful lifestyle measure that can alleviate and even prevent a wide variety of health issues.

"Nature should be the fourth pillar of health," Melissa Lem, MD, a Vancouver-based family physician, founder of BC Parks Foundation, and director of the nature prescription program PaRx. "[It's] just as important as diet and exercise and healthy sleep for maintaining a healthy lifestyle."

Common Sense Treatment

Various studies have found that time in nature is associated with health benefits including reduced stress and depression and reduced childhood obesity risk. A research review published in Frontiers in Psychology in 2020 found that as few as 10-20 minutes of sitting or walking in nature can have health benefits. Nature has been prescribed to individuals with conditions from high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes to ADHD, depression, and anxiety.

"If we're looking for ways to increase resilience, decrease stress, decrease anxiety, [and show] these markers of [boosting] mental health and well-being, time in nature is a potentially very, very low cost — if not free — preventative or therapeutic measure," Meredith says. "That seems, from a public health perspective, just a really great thing. It's something that's accessible to many and, with work, accessible to more."


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