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Canada is famous for its pristine waterways, soaring snowcaps and beautiful forests from coast to coast to coast. Today, thanks to a new partnering agreement between Park Prescriptions (PaRx) and Parks Canada, your doctor can help improve your health by prescribing time in a national park, national historic site, or national marine conservation area.
“We are very lucky in Canada to have a world of beautiful natural spaces at our doorstep to enjoy healthy outdoor activities. Medical research now clearly shows the positive health benefits of connecting with nature. This exciting collaboration with PaRx is a breakthrough for how we treat mental and physical health challenges, and couldn’t come at a better time as we continue to grapple with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our daily lives,” said the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change and Minister responsible for Parks Canada. “I am confident this program will quickly show its enormous value to the well-being of patients as it continues to expand throughout the country.”
The BC Parks Foundation launched PaRx, Canada’s first national nature prescription program, in November 2020, starting in British Columbia, and expanding to Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba through 2021. Winning a prestigious Joule Innovation prize from the Canadian Medical Association, it has garnered widespread enthusiasm across the country, with over 1,000 prescribers registered. Doctors, nurses, and other licensed health care professionals will now be able to add Parks Canada Discovery Passes to the doses of nature they prescribe.
“I can’t think of a better way to kick off 2022 than being able to give the gift of nature to my patients,” offers Dr. Melissa Lem, a family physician and Director of PaRx. “There's a strong body of evidence on the health benefits of nature time, from better immune function and life expectancy to reduced risk of heart disease, depression and anxiety, and I’m excited to see those benefits increase through this new collaboration.”
Participating prescribers across Canada will have the opportunity to prescribe an Adult Parks Canada Discovery Pass to their patients and are asked to prioritize those who live close to national parks, national historic sites, or national marine conservation areas, and who could benefit from it the most.
In Vancouver, PaRx has partnered with another major organization to improve access to nature for those who need it most. Beginning this month, the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden and Nitobe Memorial Garden are offering unlimited free admission to patients who display a copy of their PaRx prescription and matching ID at the gate.
“UBC Botanical Garden is thrilled to partner with PaRx to increase access to nature,” says Dr. Tara Moreau, Associate Director at the UBC Botanical Garden. “Through our conservation work and plant collections, we and other gardens serve communities throughout Canada and the world by improving the health of our visitors and local ecosystems. Participating in this pilot aligns with other health and wellness initiatives underway at UBC and botanical gardens elsewhere.”
Nature prescriptions were named one of the top eight global wellness trends in 2019, and are being implemented around the world. The UK and other countries are now investing in park prescription pilots to help address mental and physical health problems and the resulting strain on their health care systems and economies. PaRx’s commitment to improving patient and planetary health was recently recognized by the World Health Organization in its COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health, where it was featured as a way to inspire protection and restoration of nature as the foundation of our health—one of only two case studies cited from North America.
“Research shows that children and adults who are more connected to nature are not only more likely to work to conserve it, but also engage in other pro-environmental behaviours,” says Dr. Lem. “I like to think that every time one of my colleagues writes a nature prescription, we’re making the planet healthier too.”
PaRx has been endorsed by major health partners like BC Family Doctors, Saskatchewan Medical Association, Nurse Practitioners Association of Manitoba and Ontario College of Family Physicians, and is collaborating with local teams to launch in every province and territory across the country. Featuring practical, evidence-based online resources like quick prescribing tips and printable fact sheets, as well as an achievable green-time target of “2 hours per week, 20+ minutes each time,” PaRx aims to make nature prescriptions easy and effective for both prescribers and patients.
As COVID-19 rates remain high within Canada, it’s a critical time for health care professionals to promote the mental and physical health benefits of heading outdoors—for both their patients’ and their own health. That’s why the BC Parks Foundation is focusing on expanding their partnerships and initiatives to make nature accessible for all.
“Our goal is to make sure that people who need it can get out easily and affordably to benefit from the healing power of nature,” says Andy Day, CEO of the BC Parks Foundation. “So far, through the generosity of our donors and partners, we have provided free trips and nature therapy sessions during the pandemic to health care workers, seniors, refugees, and vulnerable youth. It’s been incredibly inspiring to see the impact nature has on people.”
The BC Parks Foundation invites other partners, governments and funders to engage and collaborate with PaRx as it rolls out across Canada.
Health care professionals who are registered with the PaRx program have the ability to independently prescribe passes to patients during the course of regular visits.
Not all health care providers are currently registered with PaRx. If you are a health care provider and would like more information about the program, you can learn more at: parkprescriptions.ca/prescribers.
Healthy by Nature Program Coordinator, BC Parks Foundation
604-343-3975 x 7
Parks Canada Media Relations
Senior Manager, Marketing and Communications, UBC Botanical Garden
The BC Parks Foundation inspires British Columbians and our friends around the world to enhance parks through a spirit of gratitude and well-being. For more info visit bcparksfoundation.ca