Please outline your work and how our research on green space and health has been helpful in supporting your activities.
I’m a family physician based in Vancouver, Canada, and also Founder and Director of PaRx/Park Prescriptions for the BC Parks Foundation, Canada’s national nature prescription initiative. We launched PaRx in November 2020 in British Columbia, spread to three other provinces over the past year, and are continuing to collaborate with teams to launch in every province and territory in Canada by the end of 2022.
As a family doctor, I’ve worked in communities across Canada, and instinctively sought out nature to de-stress after long clinic and emergency shifts—from the Arctic tundra, to the majestic mountains of northwest BC, to the boreal forests of northern Ontario. When I discovered the significant body of evidence behind the health benefits of nature over a decade ago, I made it my mission to share the science with my colleagues and patients, and motivate people to spend more time outdoors. Prescribing nature is a great way to do that because it gives patients permission to take time out of their busy lives to get outside.
That said, although there’s an impressive amount of research about how nature time improves human health, fewer studies have evaluated the efficacy of nature prescriptions in particular. So we were tickled when Thomas and Xiaoqi reached out to us in the Spring of 2021 to suggest an Australia-Canada research collaboration to further explore nature prescribing. Working with and learning from such accomplished—not to mention absolutely lovely and enthusiastic—international partners has been a privilege. In fact, it’s one of my favourite things about this work.
What are your team/organisational goals over the next 3 to 5 years and how might our research on green space and health continue to be useful?
Our primary goal is to create a culture change among Canadians, and around the world, that sees time in nature as the fourth pillar of health—just as important as diet, sleep and exercise—in a lifestyle that promotes self-care and wellbeing. We believe access to nearby nature should be designated as an essential health service.
Also, given that research suggests that people who are more connected to nature are more likely to engage in pro-environmental behaviours, nature prescriptions have the potential to catalyze broader concern for the planet. So we’re hoping that PaRx will not only improve patient health, but also planetary health. I bring a strong awareness of climate action to the work I do with the BC Parks Foundation as President-elect of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. We were deeply honoured when the World Health Organization featured PaRx in its COP26 Special Report on Climate Change and Health as a way to inspire protection and restoration of nature as the foundation of our health—one of only two case studies from North America.
Xiaoqi and Thomas’s ground-breaking work on the health benefits of nature, including their research into the effects of urban green space on loneliness, will be incredibly useful to support our messaging and help us achieve our goals. Their work is especially relevant to one of our major target audiences, young adults with mental health concerns, and also reinforces the idea that nature prescribing is a valuable addition to social prescribing—an increasingly popular concept among governments and funders.
Is there anything else that you would like to share?
Next steps for PaRx this year, aside from rolling out across Canada, include finalizing an accredited online Continuing Medical Education Module that will teach prescribers about the health benefits of nature and effective nature prescribing, and launching an app that will incentivize and track nature time in patients. We’re also actively seeking partnerships with nature-based organizations to offer benefits and discounts to patients who have been prescribed PaRx to reduce barriers to nature access.
You can find out more about our program at www.parkprescriptions.ca, and locate me on Twitter @Melissa_Lem.