Health care providers in four Canadian provinces, namely British Columbia (BC), Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, can now prescribe time in nature and a Parks Canada Discovery Pass to help patients improve their physical and mental health through Canada's national nature prescription program called A Prescription for Nature (PaRx).
PaRx passes are being offered via a collaboration between Parks Canada and the British Columbia Parks Foundation.
According to the PaRx website, spending at least two hours in nature every week can significantly improve your health and wellbeing. It can also help boost your energy and mood.
In a statement, Steven Guilbeault, minister of environment and climate change who is also the minister responsible for Parks Canada, said that medical research has proven the "positive health benefits of connecting with nature."
Guilbeault added that the collaboration with PaRx is a breakthrough for mental and physical health challenges and that it "couldn't come at a better time as we continue to grapple with the impacts of the [Wuhan coronavirus] COVID-19 pandemic on our daily lives."
A growing body of scientific data continues to prove that anxiety and other mental health issues can be treated with doses of time spent in nature.
Nature therapy can include different outdoor activities, from gardening to traveling out into the wilderness. The more biodiversity, water and "sweeping views of green space" in the nature trip, the better.
The most important thing is for the patient to feel like they are connecting with nature.
Dr. Melissa Lem, a Vancouver family physician, said that it's crucial to remove barriers to nature. Lem worked with the BC Parks Foundation to launch PaRx in 2020.
With the park pass, people can have an easier time with nature therapy.
According to Guilbeault, PaRx is expected to be available in every province and territory in Canada by the end of 2022. He called the collaboration between doctors and the Parks Foundation a "breakthrough" in the treatment of mental and physical health. (Related: Nature and longevity: Living near green spaces found to promote public health.)
A Parks Canada Discovery Pass costs $72.25 for an adult and provides admission to over 80 national parks, marine conservation areas and historic sites for one year.
In 2022, Parks Canada provided 100 adult passes, and they will reassess the number in the future. Those who live near the areas covered by the pass will be given priority for the passes, said Lem.
The program was also launched in the hopes of reducing transportation barriers to make it easier for people who are new to Canada or for those who live in inner-city neighborhoods to be able to access wilderness areas.
Lem said that they are now planning to approach major transit organizations that can give visitors free transit that stops at a park, to inspire other people.
Additionally, research has found that feeling connected with nature can lead to a "virtuous circle" and a greater likelihood of doing more to protect it.
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