This past week, I attended a conference called “Healthy Parks, Healthy People.” I like attending events like this, and being surrounded by people who genuinely understand the importance of time in nature, not just from an academic standpoint, but also from years of experience, and a lifetime spent closely in tune with the natural world. (http://www.hphpcentral.com/)
The attendees of conferences like these provide real hope for the future of parks, sustainability and human health. There were parks managers, program directors, ecologists, students, professors, psychologists, conservationists, consultants and more.
While everyone takes something slightly different away from any event, there was one particular aspect of this conference that stuck with me. Given everything we know about the physical, social and psychological benefits of time in nature, it is time for health practitioners to embrace nature as a valuable tool both for healing and for preventative medicine.
I don’t need to go into the specific benefits of time in nature in this particular post. You can find some of my previous posts on this at the end. In short, the evidence for the benefits is clear.
Image courtesy of Children & Nature Network.
Given that fact, there is a relatively new movement of physicians providing actual prescriptions for nature time. You can read more about the Parks Rx program here.
Will this be effective? I don’t know, but I hope to see research one day. While I really like the idea, there is one argument that says that turning nature time into a kind of “medicine” may make it less palatable. Then again, perhaps a medical doctor is well-positioned to convince people of the benefits and get them out the door and down the forest path.
That said, what will be (and has been proven to be) effective, is positioning interactive wellness programs, run by professionals, into natural settings.
As the number of people with anxiety and depression is heading towards “pandemic,” and as researchers struggle to find solutions that don’t come in a bottle, simple suggestions such as the pursuit of mindfulness meditation, and time spent in nature are gaining traction. AND, the body of scientific literature which demonstrates the effectiveness of these “treatments” is rapidly expanding. There is a research field called ecopsychology that arose in the 1990s which recognizes the interactions between humans and the natural environment.
There are now countless examples of organizations that employ the natural world as a necessary partner in healing. Here are some examples:
- At the conference, we heard from one organization that is having great success taking older adults with mental health challenges on “Mood Walks” in green places. http://www.moodwalks.ca/
- Numerous organizations take youth struggling with mental illness or addiction into wilderness areas to promote healing and develop coping strategies. Here is one such organization: http://pineriverinstitute.com/
- In Japan, in the 1980s, “Shinrin-yoku” was born. It translates roughly to “forest bathing” and recognizes the many healing powers of nature. The movement and research has even been the recipient of substantial government funding. http://www.shinrin-yoku.org/
Here are a couple of great short articles on the topic:
Alternatives Journal – Prescribing a Dose of Nature
I have also blogged on nature & health a few times:
The Healing Power of Nature
Ten Good Reasons why Children Need Greenspaces
20 Reasons to Drop Everything and Go Outside
Given all of the successful research being done around the world in the area of nature therapy, I believe it is time for our governments and the medical community to step up and embrace it as a critical part of effective healthcare.