Have you ever seen those memes about people going to the doctor with complaints of ill health, and the doctors prescribe for them to go for walks in nature? I’ve seen several of these, usually juxtaposed to the more common prescription of synthetic (and often toxic) drugs. I always wondered why more doctors don’t prescribe healthy outdoor exercise. I know that many do, and that often people just brush this off, preferring something they can just pop in their mouth and be done with.
The point is that a major disconnect separates true health from the world of professional medicine. Health is far more complex than chemistry, and getting out and hiking around in beautiful natural places has benefits that go far beyond measurement (even though this has measurable benefits as well.) I was delighted to learn, upon visiting Tuckahoe State Park that, in Maryland at least, steps are being taken towards making this truth more available to the mainstream public.
The Maryland Public Health Department is currently working with the State Parks Department to create prescription nature programs, which will allow doctors to actually prescribe walks (and other activities) in nature to their patients.
It was only by coincidence that I discovered this project. I camped in Tuckahoe while taking a break from Washington DC and the fast-paced stream of cities that I’ve been visiting while on my North America Tour. I had a couple of days off between my presentation at the Glowhouse and the taping of Redacted Tonight that I was signed up for, so I decided to head out to the Delmarva Peninsula for some nature time. (I didn’t need a doctor to prescribe this – I knew well that it was overdue…)
As I was walking around the park, visiting a lake I noticed on the map, I was approached by a man who asked if I was part of the event. I said no, but we got to talking anyway, and I was surprised and pleased to learn of the prescription nature program, which he and his wife, who worked with the parks department, were attending. I believe their name for this program, by the way, is Healthy Parks, Healthy People; prescription nature is just the term that I came up with to describe it.
Also attending the meeting that day were numerous doctors from around Maryland, who would be taking these ideas back to their practice, to hopefully implement the bigger-picture idea of getting people off their glow screens and out into nature.
I didn’t stay for the meeting, but I had a great talk with one of the rangers who was there to help with the event. For some reason, she had some falcons with her, and she was kind enough to take one out so I could look at it up close. What a beautiful creature.
I’m not sure how many programs like this exist, but I bet there are more. So your homework, my dear friends, is to find some more examples of doctors collaborating with the parks department to get people outside and enjoying nature more often. Please tell me about them if you find any!
And, as always, if such programs don’t exist in your area, then maybe you should help make them happen! If nothing else, you could call or write to the appropriate people and bring up the Healthy Parks, Healthy People program as something you’d like to see happen in your state or region.
Of course, if you’re too lazy (or busy) for even that, then at least get out to your state parks to enjoy the beautiful earth we’ve all been given! Support your local, state, and national parks. The parks departments are, after all, the only incarnation of government that have any merit! (Hyperbole, though only just barely…)
I did find some other examples of this kind of program, but I still want more examples, so send them if you know of them!