This past Sunday, April 28, 2019 was National ParkRx Day. This is a day celebrated across the United States to promote the growing movement of prescribing parks and nature to patients. When I first heard about this celebration I thought to myself, “Heck yes, this is what Naturopathic Doctors have been saying for ages!”. In fact, one of our founding principles of naturopathic practice is based on the Vis Medicatrix Naturae, aka the Healing Power of Nature. This principle represents both the ability of exposure to nature itself to create healing, but also the fact that many of our therapies and treatments that heal are made from the natural world (herbal medicine, vitamins, minerals, hydrotherapy, etc).
As with so many things in naturopathic medicine, the science is now catching up to what we have known and practiced for many years. In preparation for the celebration that I organized around National ParkRx Day (our very first Walk with the Doc) I started to delve into the research on the impact of nature on human health. Here are a few of the most compelling conclusions:
Exposure to nature can improve depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (Sugiyama, Leslie, Giles-Corti & Owen, 2008)
Exercising outdoors can reduce sadness, anger, and fatigue and improve attention spans (Blower, Buyung-Ali, Knight & Pullin, 2010)
Time spent in places with natural landscaping can encourage social interactions and integrations (Kweah, Sullivan & Wiley, 1998)
Time spent in nature may contribute to children’s cognitive, emotional, social, and educational development (Strife & Downey, 2009)
The fascinating connection seen in these studies is that it is not just an outdoor setting that creates the positive improvements. It needs to be outside in an area with “greenscaping”, which is somewhere with growing plants and foliage of some sort. The inner city concrete jungle basketball court does not create the same changes in mental health that is seen when the children are exposed to a green park. This leads me to the next bit of research that is exploding on green light therapy. Perhaps you have heard of the more popular red light therapy? Green light therapy is similar in that it is the usage of a certain wavelength of visible light to impact health. The most stunning impact of green light therapy appears to be on pain and the nervous system. There is data on green light therapy being used to reduce the dosage of opioid painkillers. Green light has also been shown to reduce levels of stress and the hormone cortisol. The theory is that our brains developed very specific receptors for the color green in the evolution of human development given the fact that for thousands of years we lived in environments where the color green meant abundance in food sourcing.
I have been sharing this research with my patients over the past week and although this may sound like simple information, it is such a necessary reminder. I heard stories this week from a patient who is a schoolteacher and after she heard about this was inspired to do more teaching outdoors. Another patient shared this data with a friend of hers suffering from depression due to a recent cancer diagnosis to encourage her friend to get out of the house and take a walk in the park. I know that I personally feel a deep difference when I have spent time outdoors in nature and I encourage you to make an effort to spend some time outdoors in a beautiful setting every day.
Here’s my official prescription for all of you:
Rx: The Great Outdoors
Sig: 30 minutes
Refills: Your soul
Dr. Kristen Coles