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Natural medicine

Memorial researchers endorse Canada’s first nature prescription program


By Jeff Green

As the saying goes, a breath of fresh air can work wonders.

Wearing a blue and white striped shirt, Dr. Atanu Sarkar is seen with the ocean and cliffs in the background.
Dr. Atanu Sarkar says PaRx can be a practical solution without costing anything to individuals and government.
Photo: Submitted

Health professionals in this province can now formally prescribe nature to their patients as part of personal health-care plans.

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) recently launched PaRx, a national nature prescription program, in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Health-care providers who register with PaRx are provided with a nature prescription file to use with patients encouraging patients to see the value of time spent in nature.

The first of its kind in this country, PaRx began as an initiative of the B.C. Parks Foundation and is now available in every province.

‘Getting connected’

Dr. Atanu Sarkar, associate professor of environmental and occupational health, Division of Community Health and Humanities, Faculty of Medicine, is the founder of CAPE NL and its current chair.

He says the benefits of getting out in nature are enormous.

“As we all know, due to our sedentary habits and stress, the population is getting multiple problems of obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and indeed mental illness. PaRx can be a practical solution without costing anything to individuals and government.”

A photo of a wood bridge, trail, trees, river and building.
PaRx is Canada’s first national, evidence-based nature prescription program. Pictured is part of the Long Pond trail on Memorial’s St. John’s campus.
Photo: Submitted

He says there is plenty of evidence that spending time in nature helps improve your health and wellbeing.

Eric Fradsham, a fourth-year medical student at Memorial who grew up in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, helped CAPE NL launch PaRx.

He says feedback about the initiative is encouraging.

“From peers, colleagues and family, a lot of people are excited about the launch. It provoked a lot of questions and the need for further detail, which was expected. Many of my non-medical professional friends had said they were planning to reach out to their primary care providers for more information, as well.”

‘Beneficial’ research

Wearing a blue hat and coat, backpack, black gloves and sunglasses, Dr. Jane Gosine carries a hiking pole. A view of the ocean, beach, trees and cliff are seen in the background.
Dr. Jane Gosine
Photo: Submitted

Dr. Jane Gosine, professor of musicology at the School of Music, who is cross-appointed to the Division of Community Health and Humanities, Faculty of Medicine, is a community member with CAPE NL.

She became involved because of her interest in social prescribing.

Social prescribing is an approach to health care that empowers health-care providers to connect patients with community supports and activities to improve health and well-being — everything from walking, gardening and dancing, to cooking, singing and painting.

“I would encourage both health-care providers and patients to consider ways in which they can build time spent in nature.” — Dr. Jane Gosine

“Both personally and from research evidence, I’m aware of the way in which spending time in nature, and that can include any time spent in a green space inside or outside, can be beneficial for a person’s well-being,” Dr. Gosine explained.

Her research explores how arts-based interventions, particularly music, support ways of improving a person’s health.

“Evidence suggests similar outcomes from both engagement with the arts and time spent in nature, including potential psychological, emotional, physical and cognitive improvements.”

Two people walking outdoors. The Memorial logo is seen in the background as part of a metal rail.
Research shows that spending time in nature is good for your health.
Photo: David Howells

Time in nature

Dr. Gosine says while there is nothing new about using the arts and nature to improve health — they’ve been connected for thousands of years — she says there’s recent evidence from research and practice showing us how and why they are beneficial.

“I would encourage both health-care providers and patients to consider ways in which they can build time spent in nature and engagement with the arts into their daily lives, whether in organized groups or on their own,” she said.

“It can be something as simple as heading outside for a walk with a friend, walking to work or spending time in a park, as well as participating in organized walking groups or therapeutic programs, such as PaRx. Evidence suggests that spending at least two hours a week in nature in whatever way is meaningful to an individual can be beneficial for health.”

More information about PaRx is available online.

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