Doctors in Canada can prescribe free annual passes for national parks: NPR


People walk under trees as snow falls near Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada in November.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images


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Doctors in Canada can prescribe free annual passes for national parks: NPR

People walk under trees as snow falls near Lake Louise in Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada in November.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

A walk in the park may be just what the doctor ordered.

A new program launched last month in Canada gives select physicians the opportunity to provide patients with a free annual pass to the country’s national parks as part of an effort to increase access to nature and the benefits for the health found outside.

PaRx, a health initiative launched by the BC Parks Foundation in 2019, has partnered with Parks Canada to provide physicians in four provinces with an initial batch of 100 prescribeable passes, The Washington Post reported. The park’s typical prescription program allows doctors to write more general prescriptions for time spent in the wild; two hours a week, at least 20 minutes at a time, is what PaRx director Dr. Melissa Lem suggests, according to the Post.

This is the first time that year-long national park passes have been available under the program, the outlet reported.

“Given the growing body of evidence that time spent in nature can improve all kinds of physical and mental health conditions, we hope that our PaRx program not only improves patient health, but also reduces system costs. and helps grow the number of people who are more engaged conservationists,” Prama Rahman, coordinator of the BC Parks Foundation’s Healthy By Nature program, told NPR in an email.

It is a unique concept, which has taken off locally and abroad. In the United States, a group of park professionals, healthcare providers and community leaders worked together to form the National ParkRx Initiative about 10 years ago. The movement lives on through ParkRx, its website and online resource for information on park prescriptions and the health benefits of nature.

Research has long pointed to the mental and physical health benefits of spending time outdoors. A 2019 study concluded that those who spent 120 minutes or more outdoors per week reported positive effects on their overall health and well-being compared to those who did not go outside at all.

The doctors understood; more and more providers are asking their patients to look to nature to improve their health, and they are getting creative in the way they do it.

Washington, D.C.-based pediatrician Dr. Robert Zarr began prescribing accessible outdoor activities for his young patients and even created an online searchable database of local parks to make it easier, NPR reported in 2014. .

But going out isn’t always as easy as it seems. Income can affect access to nature, an issue that PaRx is trying to address in Canada. Physicians using the new national park pass program are urged to prioritize patients who otherwise could not afford these passes, The Post reported.

While only 100 adult Discovery Passes – which grant holders access to more than 80 national parks, historic sites and nature reserves – were initially made available, organizers plan to reassess this number regularly as the program is expanding, the BC Parks Foundation told NPR.


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