Dr. Michael Suk, MD JD MPH FACS provided the opening keynote for the conference and presented additional evidence around the health benefits of time outside, mobilizing a call to action that advances nature as a social determinant of health. Current social determinants of health commonly include: education, employment and working conditions, food, housing, and social support. Access to nature is now being advanced as an important extension to a community health model. As people complain of an increasing sense of social isolation, despite technology’s promise to connect, doctors are finding they can help people be active and connect with friends and family when they send them outside. Additionally, without telling their patients to “exercise,” the prescription to go outside seems to encourage and support a more active lifestyle.
Some members of the audience asked if physicians and health systems need more evidence before widely adopting the Nature RX. The resounding answer was loud and clear: “Sure, we’d welcome more research and data, but we don’t have time to wait given the chronic disease we are seeing. We’re out of time.” Physicians are diving in, getting their hands dirty and finding ways to get their patients outside. Dr. Nooshin Razani presented her groundbreaking park prescription program called Stay Healthy In Nature Everyday (SHINE) where she takes families into nature every month. She is a pediatrician, researcher, and advocate of access to nature as a human right. As an attending physician at UCSF Benioff Oakland’s Primary Care Clinic and a Clinical Scientist at Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI), she conducted the first randomized trial of park prescriptions. She implemented Park Rx by providing transportation to parks, fun activities such as community walking, group games, meditation and yoga.
Other physicians across the country are leading similar efforts. Founder and Medical Director of Park Rx America, Dr. Robert Zarr, talked about his health initiative of prescribing nature to patients and families to prevent and treat chronic disease and promote wellness. Dr. Banner of Barton Health and USFS/Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Collaboration discussed his system’s team of staff who are getting patients out in nature. It is clear other health systems like Aetna, Kaiser Permanente, Northwestern, University of Washington and Berkeley are advancing research and Nature RX prescription efforts of their own. At a time when chronic disease like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and mental health disease are being widely diagnosed, it is both refreshing and exciting to see health systems looking at different models to engage their patients and communities in nature as a determinant of health.
Most doctors and health leaders will say this is just common sense. Time outside makes people happier and healthier. Nature, parks and public lands offer us a place to unwind, to recreate, to experience risks and challenges that help build population resiliency. Time outside is also a way, and a place, to connect with friends and families. Maybe we have a favorite river or lake we like to go to, a city park, a mountain we like to climb, a landscape we like to be in to feel at peace. It turns out that these places we intuitively connect with or feel a sense of wonder over, are often what make us happier and healthier.
As an Idaho native, and as Idaho Business for the Outdoor’s Executive Director, I proudly support this nonpartisan, cross-sector collaboration that reestablishes people’s relationship with nature as a path to better community health. It is with deep gratitude and pride in our great outdoor state—Idaho, that I stand firmly behind this national effort.