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Health & Balance

Do You Need a Nature Prescription?

Nature therapy may mean that better health is right outside your door.
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Back to the Garden for Breast Cancer Survivors continued...

“Among the frustrations we saw in our patients,” Helzlsouer says, “was that they didn’t have the energy to garden, a favorite activity for many of them.”

For people who enjoy gardening, Helzlsouer prescribes getting back outside, even if it’s starting out with five minutes of weeding. People who aren’t gardening enthusiasts are advised to find a nearby park where they can take a walk, "commune with nature," and reap the mind-body results of a relaxing setting and physical exercise.

Getting Kids on the Path to Health

Other health care professionals are also finding that being in a natural environment has numerous benefits. School nurse Stacy Bosch, of the Clark County School District in Nevada, sees many students who are overweight or have type 2 diabetes. More often than not, these kids spend very little time outside.

To get the kids -- and their parents -- away from the TV and the computer and increase their physical activity in order to help control weight and blood sugar, Bosch writes a prescription for the entire family to go to one of the county’s nature areas and simply take a walk.

So far, Bosch has received positive feedback from families that have followed her prescription. “They’re excited to be doing something together that will benefit all of them,” she says.

Bosch is one of three dozen health care professionals who took part in the inaugural Health Care Nature Champions training program, offered through a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Environmental Education Foundation, and a variety of health care professionals and organizations. The idea for nature champions resulted from the 2007 Children and Nature Summit, during which U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff met with doctors, educators, and outdoors professionals about finding ways to overcome "nature-deficit disorder" in children. The two-year pilot project aims to improve family health by connecting children and their families with nature sites that are easy to get to.

Maria Brown, MD, a member of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine's department of pediatrics, says the Nature Champion program is a handy tool for prescribing a more active lifestyle for kids and their families.

“It gives health care providers a concrete, positive way to suggest their patients get more physical activity,” Brown says. “Who’s going to argue with a prescription to get outside more?” The prescriptions come with maps to nearby parks and refuges, many of which offer outdoor experiences led by park rangers and volunteers.

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