Doctor’s orders: Why medical professionals are prescribing trips to national parks

When you go to the doctor feeling under the weather, what do you expect? A prescription to take to the pharmacy or some additional tests perhaps?

Doctors in Canada are taking another approach by handing out passes to the country’s stunning national parks to improve the health of some of their patients.

The initiative, called “PaRX”, encourages patients to get outdoors and enjoy nature more. Medical professionals give patients a free pass to enter stunning and vast natural places, like Glacier National Park of Canada, which is renowned for its deep valleys filled with ancient forests, as well as nature reserves, gardens, and historic sites.

PaRX claims that people who spend at least two hours in nature a week report significantly better health and wellbeing than those who don’t. So, that’s what patients are prescribed – to explore the great outdoors for two hours a week.

The initiative adds: “From diabetes and heart disease to anxiety and depression, research shows that connecting to nature is a powerful way to improve your health.”

5 surprising health benefits of spending more time outdoors 

While we know getting outdoors can encourage physical activity that’s important for overall health, there may be some benefits to visiting national parks and other green spaces that surprise you.

There have been hundreds of studies exploring the health benefits of nature. The programme in Canada uses some of this research to support the PaRX initiative after they found:

  • 90% of people say they’re happier when they’re outside – and stress hormone levels drop significantly after just 15 minutes of sitting in a forest.
  • Increasing how much time you spend in nature reduces your risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
  • Spending time in nature can boost your creativity, memory, and work satisfaction.
  • Seniors who live closers to walkable green spaces live longer.
  • Being in a forest drops inflammation and stress in adults with some lung conditions and reduces the risk of lung infections.

It’s not just adults who benefit from exploring the great outdoors. Research suggests young people who spend time in nature are more resilient and experience less anxiety, as well as being more likely to reach physical activity targets to maintain a healthy body.

Canada isn’t the first country to change how it thinks about healthcare to incorporate nature.

The Canadian model follows a similar programme in the US, while a practice known as “forest bathing” has become an important part of preventive healthcare in Japan.

While the UK has yet to offer national park prescriptions, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the benefits. We might not have glaciers here, but our varied landscape and beautiful outdoor spaces are excellent places to explore to boost your wellbeing.

The 15 stunning national parks of the UK

There are 15 national parks spread out across the UK and they are free to visit at any time of the year.

With an estimated 110 million visits to the national parks each year, many people are already benefiting from the positive health effects of being outdoors. So, if it’s been a while since you visited one of these outdoor spaces, why not plan a trip?

Here are the 15 national parks you can visit in the UK:

  1. Peak District
  2. Lake District
  3. Snowdonia
  4. Dartmoor
  5. Pembrokeshire Coast
  6. North York Moors
  7. Yorkshire Dales
  8. Exmoor
  9. Northumberland
  10. Brecon Beacons
  11. The Broads
  12. Loch Lomond and The Trossachs
  13. Cairngorms
  14. New Forest
  15. South Downs

On top of the national parks, the UK has numerous places designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty for excellent countryside walks, as well as country parks, formal gardens, historic sites, and outdoor spaces in urban areas.

So, there are plenty of opportunities to follow the lead of Canada and set a goal of spending at least two hours a week in nature. It could lead you to new destinations across the UK, improve your mood, and help you be healthier.

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