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Visions Journal

Your Newest Prescription for Better Mental Health

A dose of nature with PaRx

Laura M. Hergott, MSc

Reprinted from the Nourishing and Moving Our Bodies issue of Visions Journal, 2023, 19 (1), pp. 13-15

Photo of author, Laura M. Hergott

Think about how you feel when you’re in nature. What words come to mind? Grounded? Calm? Refreshed? Humans have an intuitive sense that spending time in nature feels good, and there’s scientific evidence to back it up!

Humans have an intuitive sense that spending time in nature feels good, and there’s scientific evidence to back it up!

The health benefits of spending time in nature range from lower depression and higher self-esteem to reduced risk of heart disease and stroke.1 These benefits are so well proven that nature is being adopted worldwide as a health intervention. Canada is leading the nature–health movement with its national nature prescription program, Park Prescriptions (PaRx).

Through PaRx, any regulated health professional can help improve their patient’s health by writing a prescription for nature, and any Canadian can get tips on enjoying nature and health.

Doctor’s orders

The BC Parks Foundation launched PaRx in this province in November 2020, then expanded across the country. Over 11,000 prescribers have now registered with the program and are writing nature prescriptions for their patients in a wide variety of contexts.

Laura Cohen is one of them. Laura is a registered counselling therapist from Halifax, Nova Scotia. She recently described why she joined PaRx: “I wanted to be able to offer clients relief from burnout, stress and anxiety with well-needed resources that promote an embodied experience that would benefit their overall health.”

Doctors and nurses consistently rank among the most trusted professionals in the country, which means people are more likely to make a lifestyle change when the advice is coming from a health care professional.2 Evidence also shows that people like written prescriptions better than oral advice, hence the fillable digital PaRx prescription template.3 Also available on the PaRx website: evidence-based online resources, like quick prescribing tips and printable fact sheets.

“Nature prescriptions are a game-changer in terms of adding legitimacy to the mental health benefits of nature as an evidence-based intervention for treating stress-related disorders,” enthused Cohen.

Small steps into nature

One of the most accessible parts about nature prescriptions is that there are no rules about what counts as nature time. Health benefits start to add up any time you feel you’ve had a meaningful connection to nature.

That’s why PaRx aims to make nature prescriptions easy and effective for patients, too. We’re not necessarily asking patients to hike a mountain or take up trail running. If that’s their thing, hey, we’re certainly not discouraging it! But anyone, regardless of physical ability, income or age, can increase their time outside. To improve your mental well-being, you can:

  • take a stroll in a local park
  • garden at home
  • relax under a shady tree
  • watch the sunset
  • listen to the rain

Whatever you decide on, PaRx has set an achievable, scientific green-time target of two hours of nature time per week for 20+ minutes at a time. If this sounds like a lot, start with five minutes. You may be surprised at how good it feels, and those five minutes might just become your favourite part of the day.

PaRx reduces barriers to nature by collaborating with major organizations, like Parks Canada and the UBC Botanical Garden, to offer patients free or discounted admission to outdoor spaces.4 We’ve also been having conversations with transportation organizations to see how we can make nature more accessible to city dwellers.

Tailor-made green prescriptions

When practitioners like Laura Cohen prescribe nature, they customize the prescription to each individual client by figuring out together how a prescription would work best with their current lifestyle.

“Essentially, it's about tapping into your five senses through connecting your sense of sight, smell, touch and sound with natural stimuli to lower stress levels and feel more grounded. Whether it's a local park, a remote beach nearby or even a view of the sky from their city apartment, I usually prescribe spending a minimum of 20 minutes a day for three to four days a week in that natural space.”

A core idea behind PaRx is that whenever a health care professional is talking about eating healthy, exercise and getting good sleep—sometimes called the three pillars of health—nature should be recommended as the fourth pillar.

In their recent policy on sustainable health, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) recommended that nature prescribing be taught in medical schools and that every health care practitioner adopt nature prescriptions into their practice—the first time any national doctors’ association has made this into policy.5 Along with the CMA, PaRx is proud and grateful to be endorsed by more than 80 major health partners from across the country.

Green time for our planet’s future

Did you know that the stronger the nature habit, the more likely an individual is to recycle, conserve energy and vote for planet-positive policy-makers?6 That’s why nature prescriptions are also supported by the environmental sector for their positive effects on planetary health.

“Research shows that children and adults who are more connected to nature are not only more likely to work to conserve it, but also engage in other pro-environmental behaviours,” says Dr. Melissa Lem, a Vancouver family physician and Director of PaRx. “I like to think that every time one of my colleagues writes a nature prescription, we’re supporting biodiversity values and making the planet healthier, too.”

PaRx is also going global. The World Health Organization recognized PaRx’s commitment to improving patient and planetary health in its COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health, where it was featured as a way to inspire protection and restoration of nature as the foundation of our health—one of only two case studies cited from North America.

As a win for people and a win for the Earth, it’s easy to understand why spending more time in nature should be a priority for everyone in Canada. When asked how patients typically react when they’re introduced to the concept of nature prescriptions, Laura Cohen explains, “There's either a sense of relief that their love of nature has been scientifically proven to be beneficial with a response like, ‘That makes a lot of sense.’ Or, they're surprised, and say something like, ‘Wow, I didn't know there was a prescription for this!’”

Peaceful. Relaxed. Happier. Committing to a new nature habit of at least two hours a week, at least 20 minutes at a time, might be one of the best things you can do for your mental health.

Visit to learn more about PaRx and the health benefits of nature, or ask your health care provider about it at your next appointment.

Sample PaRx prescription

Related Resources

PaRx tips to connect to better health through nature:

  • Make easy green tweaks to your routine by substituting outdoor activities for indoor ones: take your lunch break outside, write in your journal in the park or run in the forest instead of the treadmill
  • Prioritize your date with nature by writing it into your schedule: set a daily alarm in your phone
  • Involve others to increase your chances of meeting your goals: phone a friend during your green date or invite a family member to join you
  • Listen to your body and do what feels right for you: try a variety of nature-based activities and find the ones that you most enjoy
  • Be a leader: help your friends and family develop their own nature habit for their health by planning nature-based gatherings (e.g., have a picnic instead of going to a restaurant)
  • Follow up your nature habit with your health care provider: this will help you stay accountable and keep you working towards your goals
About the author

Laura is the PaRx coordinator for the BC Parks Foundation, where she manages the national nature prescription program. With her background in biochemistry, Laura was drawn to PaRx by the research supporting nature prescriptions. As an outdoors enthusiast, she is passionate about making nature accessible. Laura enjoys rock climbing and hiking with her dog

  1. Twohig-Bennett, C., & Jones, A. (2018). The health benefits of the great outdoors: A systematic review and meta-analysis of greenspace exposure and health outcomes. Environmental Research, 166, 628–637.

  2. Ipsos (2022, August 1). Doctors and scientists are seen as the world’s most trustworthy professions.

  3. Swinburn, B. A., Walter, L. G., Arroll, B., Tilyard, M.W., & Russell, D. G. (1998). The green prescription study: A randomized controlled trial of written exercise advice provided by general practitioners. American Journal of Public Health, 88, 288–291.

  4. BC Parks Foundation. (2022, Jan 31). Announcing a new collaboration between PaRx and Parks Canada.

  5. Canadian Medical Association. (2022, Oct 22). Environmentally sustainable health systems in Canada.

  6. Zelenski, J. M., Dopko, R. L., & Capaldi, C. (2015). Cooperation is in our nature: Nature exposure may promote cooperative and environmentally sustainable behavior. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 42, 24–31.

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