Doctors Prescribe Parks for Health

By National Recreation and Park Association | Posted on April 12, 2012

Doctors Finding Parks Are Some of the Best Places to Prescribe Physical Activity for Health

A growing number of physicians and pediatricians are looking to parks as natural partners in the fight against chronic disease and obesity.  These physicians are recognizing the exceptional health benefits of using parks and trails to improve one’s health.  Many have embraced the concept of “Park Prescriptions,” that is an actual prescription from a doctor to direct patients to engage in a specific amount of daily physical activity, which can be achieved by walking in parks or on public trails. Additionally, some doctors are putting skin in the game by coming out to parks and showing by their own example that walking and spending time outdoors is great for one’s health.

Parks and public lands have long been associated with higher physical activity levels, but are now also associated with greater feelings of revitalization, energy, and perceptions of improved health.  Prescribing parks as a solution for improving health offers affordable, accessible health benefits to people of all ages, abilities and incomes, and it can produce outstanding results in promoting healthy behaviors and preventing chronic disease conditions. 

The Children in Nature Partnership, a working group of parks professionals composed of representatives of the National Park Service, the National Association of State Park Directors, and the National Recreation and Park Association, have been looking at ways that parks can do more to tangibly improve the health of children and adults.  A number of local, state, and national parks have begun to partner with pediatricians and physicians in innovative ways to design trail systems to promote health outcomes, prescribe walking or biking as a way to get daily physical activity, and to create better examples of ways to promote regular physical activity to achieve improved health, fitness, and appreciation for our nation’s natural and cultural heritage. 

The Children and Nature Partnership sponsored a lively and informative webinar in April, 2012 to share examples of innovative ideas and programs that are being implemented around the country to connect doctors to the public in parks and to encourage them to prescribe the use of parks, trails and public lands for physical activity as a means to improve health. Presenters included Dr. Maria Brown, a pediatrician and pediatrics instructor from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in MD; Dr. David Sabgir, a cardiologist and founder of Walk With a Doc in Columbus, OH; Kathryn Stephens, Executive Director of Walk with a Doc; Jean Rystrom, a health care administrator for Kaiser Permanente in Portland, OR; and Terry Bergerson, outdoor recreation planner from the Oregon Department of Parks & Recreation in Salem, OR.

The webinar presenters examined innovative programs such as the extremely popular “Walk With a Doc” program that engaged thousands of people to join in regular hikes in parks in their local communities; how pediatricians and physicians in Maryland initiated “Docs in the Park” programs to engage families, children and youth in healthy and educational activities in parks; and how healthcare professionals and park planners work together in Oregon to connect physicians who prescribe physical activity in parks as a means of reducing obesity with park and recreation agencies to help in implementation.

This webinar was hosted by the Children and Nature Partnership of NRPA/NASPD/NPS with support from the Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) program of the US Department of Health and Human Services.