It turns out what you already know intuitively—that fresh air feels good—is backed by studies that show “(t)ime spent in natural outdoor spaces has physiological and psychological benefits, such as reduced stress responses and improved mood.”
It was a deep dive into research on the health benefits of spending time in nature that ultimately led Dr. Lem to collaborate with the BC Parks Foundation and bring the concept of nature prescribing, popularized in the US by Park Rx America, to Canada.
She was instrumental in developing PaRx, which is the second national nature-prescription program in the world, and the first to be officially endorsed by a national medical association.
A Dose of Nature
At COP15, the United Nation’s Biodiversity Conference that was held in Montreal last month, the Canadian Medical Association announced their official endorsement of PaRx.
Today, more than 10,000 healthcare professionals across the country have signed up to prescribe nature to their patients: ideally two hours per week, at least 20 minutes at a time.
So, what kind of “nature” are we talking about here? Do you need to be taking in vistas of eagles soaring above mountaintops in order to reap any health benefits? Not necessarily.
“The objective biodiversity in an area is perhaps less important to your mental health outcomes than what you feel like your nature experience was,” says Dr. Lem.
“Of course it’s easier to feel like you’ve had a profound nature experience in a very biodiverse, wild area but it doesn’t have to be. If we can, in urban centres, shift our idea about what nature is and find the green, find the blue, wherever we can, we can still have those experiences in the city.”
In other words, she says, “If you feel like you’ve had a meaningful nature experience, you have.”
These nature experiences—however you define them for yourself—are important for all of us, at every age and at every fitness level.
That can mean hiking and biking and jogging, of course, but it turns out you don’t have to be exercising outside in order to get the health benefits of being outside.