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This summer, a move back to the wild spaces near Winnipeg was just what the doctor ordered for social worker and doctoral student Anna Cooper Reed. After months of enduring lockdown measures and online classes in Toronto during the pandemic, not only did heading back home bring her closer to family, but it also allowed her to spend more time at her family cabin exploring nearby Whiteshell Provincial Park.
“Like many people, I was feeling pretty burned out through COVID-19, because I really value social connection and interaction. But being able to reconnect to my family—and nature—was exactly what I needed,” offered Cooper Reed.
Inspired by her personal experiences, and building on her pre-existing advocacy for planetary health through ELESH, she set out to make the launch of PaRx a reality in Manitoba. Thanks to her work, along with the help of her father, radiologist Dr. Martin Reed, and Max Rady Faculty of Medicine student Angie Woodbury, today health professionals across Manitoba can prescribe nature to their own patients.
“As I grew up, I was always passionate about protecting the environment, and PaRx is a great way to help health professionals and learners do this in a meaningful way,” says Woodbury. “Spending time in nature can both improve patients’ health, and inspire them to work to conserve it.”
Given their determination to engage an interdisciplinary team in supporting the launch, the Manitoba PaRx launch boasts endorsers from the most diverse group of health professionals in the country, from the Manitoba College of Family Physicians and Nurse Practitioners Association of Manitoba, to Pharmacists Manitoba, the Manitoba Society of Occupational Therapists and the Manitoba Physiotherapy Association.
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.
The BC Parks Foundation launched PaRx in November 2020, starting in British Columbia, then expanding to Ontario in February 2021 and Saskatchewan in July. Winning a prestigious Joule Innovation prize from the Canadian Medical Association, it has garnered widespread enthusiasm across the country, with close to 1,000 prescribers now registered.
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 building 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 advocate for the nature-health connection, championing it in her practice, at medical conferences and 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.
“Family physicians believe that one of the most effective ways to prevent disease and promote health is by encouraging healthier lifestyles,” offers Manitoba College of Family Physicians President Dr. Joanna Lynch. “Being able to formally prescribe nature in Manitoba using the PaRx program will help us improve the well-being of our patients and communities.”
Dr. Cheryl Cusack, a registered nurse and Executive Director of the Association of Regulated Nurses of Manitoba, is eager to see her colleagues introduce the phenomenon of nature prescribing across the province, saying, “As nurses, we are the largest group of health professionals and work across multiple settings. We view the person as a whole, so there are many opportunities for us to promote physical and mental well-being using a connection to nature. Nature prescribing fits well with nursing knowledge and expertise.”
As the burden of COVID-19 continues to weigh on 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 Manitoba 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.