Pilot Project in Holland Aims to Help get People Outside Using Nature Prescriptions

ocparksPark Rx America is a new platform available to Holland-area doctors used to prescribe patients with time outdoors at a park that is accessible and convenient.

Ottawa County Parks, along with the City of Holland, Holland Charter Township, Park Township, Laketown Township, and the Outdoor Discovery Center are partnering with a non-profit organization, Park Rx America, and the Holland Hospital Physical Hospital Organization (PHO) to bring nature prescriptions to patients. Leading this pilot project is Dr. Beth Peter MD whose background is in family medicine.

streamGo get some fresh air is advice that’s been given for years. Intuitively, many people know that fresh air and sunshine can make you feel better, but in the past there hasn’t been much science to back that up. That is changing.

A number of recent evidentiary studies are uncovering the science behind the healing power of nature. Researchers are finding that time spent outdoors can have many positive, measurable outcomes such as: reduced stress, improved sleep, lower blood pressure, and increased social connectedness. (A full list of findings can be found here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5744722/).

beachAt the same time humans are spending more time inside and in front of screens and other studies beg the question: Why is our culture so stressed?

“What those researchers are finding is that we were designed to be healthier, to exercise more and to eat more plants,” says Dr. Peter. “Our brains are developed for sunshine and fresh air.”

Park Rx America is a platform physicians can use to get their patients outdoors more often and create healthier habits. It contains a database of area parks that includes information to help doctors prescribe a park that will be the right fit for a patient. “Park Rx America will be helpful to patients and doctors because we don’t always know what’s out there,” said Dr. Peter. “It can also help answer important questions like ‘are there accessible pathways and bathrooms’? Or, ‘are dogs allowed?’”

Once doctors find the right park, they can create a prescription for their patient. Individuals will receive text reminders to visit their prescribed park and are able to check in when they arrive. They can also opt-in to answer questions about how they are feeling after their time outside. After the initial prescription is filled, the hope is that people keep coming back and perhaps begin to explore new places.

“The PHO is always searching for resources we can give our physicians to help them motivate their patients to make important habit changes so they are healthier, feel better, and are less stressed,” said Dr. Peter. “Park Rx America is one we’re really excited about.”