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Even though Calgary family physician Dr. Clark Svrcek’s home backs right onto Fish Creek Provincial Park, a “crushing” increase in workload during the COVID-19 pandemic found him spending less and less time in nature. A long-time proponent of the health benefits of green time, Dr. Svrcek suddenly found himself “shackled to the computer,” looking through his home office window at his family playing outside.
Yet the moments when he could finally head outdoors with his wife and three children were a lifeline through the pandemic. “It’s been tough to see my patients suffering in isolation,” says Dr. Svrcek. “Noticing how much better my family and I felt in nature reinforced for me how important it is to spend time outdoors.”
Motivated by his experiences and research findings, he worked alongside a local team of health professionals for months to bring PaRx, Canada’s national nature prescription program, to Alberta. And today, with the launch of PaRx in Alberta, the province’s health professionals can now formally prescribe nature to their patients.
Dr. Sonya Jakubec, Professor of Nursing at Mount Royal University and a key Alberta launch coordinator, is eager to see her colleagues prescribe green time across the province, stating, “Nurses interact with patients, families and communities in their daily experiences and contexts, in moments of challenge and change across the lifespan. It is in these relationships that we can offer nature prescriptions to inspire motivation and connection to nature. Nurses know that everyone belongs outside."
Recognizing the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration, the launch team successfully landed endorsements from a diverse group of health professionals, from the Alberta Association of Nurses and Alberta Medical Association, to the Society of Alberta Occupational Therapists, Alberta Pharmacists’ Association and Alberta College of Family Physicians.
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 have invested in park prescription pilots to help address mental and physical health problems and the resulting strain on their health-care systems and economies.
The BC Parks Foundation launched PaRx in November 2020, starting in British Columbia, then expanding to Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba through 2021. Winning a prestigious Joule Innovation prize from the Canadian Medical Association and recognized by the World Health Organization at COP26 as a way to inspire protection and restoration of nature as the foundation of our health, PaRx now has over 5,000 prescribers across Canada.
Any licensed health-care professional can prescribe PaRx. They will receive a nature prescription file customized with a unique provider code and instructions for how to prescribe and log prescriptions.
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.
“It’s incredibly gratifying to see support for PaRx extending across Canada,” says Dr. Melissa Lem, a family physician and Director of PaRx. She prescribed nature for the first time to a student battling Attention Deficit Disorder over a decade ago, and since then has become an internationally recognized advocate for the nature-health connection, championing it in her practice, at medical conferences, and through guided tours in parks.
“There's a strong and growing body of research on the health benefits of nature time, from better immune function and life expectancy to reduced risk of heart disease, depression and anxiety,” states Dr. Lem, who believes governments should designate parks an essential part of the health care system.
Dr. Vesta Michelle Warren, President of the Alberta Medical Association (AMA) and a family physician in Sundre, is delighted to see the program arrive locally, having reached out to involve her own clinic in nature prescribing well before today’s launch. “The AMA’s governing body endorsed the PaRx program at our Fall 2021 meeting. In doing so we honoured the indelible link between our bodies and the natural world around us. The healing power of nature has never been more needed at this time of disease and unease in the world.”
Beyond the benefits of nature prescriptions for human health, there are also benefits for the health of the planet. “We are tremendously fortunate to be surrounded by world-renowned natural beauty in Alberta, including urban parks and green spaces,” offers Dr. Andrea Hull, co-chair of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment’s Alberta chapter and a local launch coordinator. “PaRx is an exciting way to showcase the health benefits of time in nature, as well as heighten our awareness of the importance of protecting these vital, rich ecosystems.”
PaRx also announced a new partnering agreement with Parks Canada in January. Licensed health-care professionals registered in the PaRx program can now help reduce their patients’ barriers to nature access by prescribing an Adult Parks Canada Discovery Pass. They are asked to prioritize those who live close to national parks, national historic sites, or national marine conservation areas, and who could benefit from the pass the most. In Alberta, this includes the Bar U Ranch and Rocky Mountain House National Historic Sites. Each registered prescriber can prescribe one park pass per month.
As spring weather arrives in communities across Canada, it’s the ideal 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 offering free guided remote nature therapy sessions to prescribers to support their own wellbeing. “Out of gratitude for the extraordinary care healthcare workers have been giving Canadians, we are offering them a rejuvenating chance to connect with nature in a deep, consistent and meaningful way,” says Andy Day, CEO of the BC Parks Foundation.
The BC Parks Foundation invites other partners, governments, and funders to engage and collaborate with PaRx as it rolls out in Alberta and across Canada.
604-343-3975 x 7
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