Are Parks and Green Spaces Medicinal?
Are Parks and Green Spaces Medicinal? A review of the medicinal benefits associated with spending time in parks
“There’s a paradigm shift in the way we think about parks: not just as a place to recreate, but literally as a prescription, a place to improve your health.” – Dr. Robert Zarr
Are parks and green spaces medicinal? You might think that sounds ridiculous, but many physicians see green spaces that way. Some have even started writing their patients nature prescriptions!
It has become common knowledge globally that spending time in parks and green spaces has a positive effect on your wellbeing. Even without exercising, spending just 20 minutes in a natural environment can improve wellbeing.
Epidemiological research suggests spending time in nature, also known as ecotherapy or ‘forest bathing,’ relieves stress and anxiety, calms nerves, restores mental abilities and lowers activity in the part of the brain linked to negative rumination. Some research indicates that ecotherapy can lead to lower risk of developing psychiatric disorders.
The Japanese use a similar method to combat stress. Their traditional practice of “Shinrin-yoku” involves walking through a forest and breathing in the fresh air.
It is not only mental health that is improved by spending time in nature. Living in greener areas is also linked to preventing hospitalisation due to asthma, preventing obesity, and preventing diabetes. In a 2015 study of 31 European capitals, those with a lack of green spaces showed higher mortality rates.
The medical community across the globe has started recognising the benefits of green spaces for their patients. Many physicians, including Dr. Robert Zarr, a paediatrician in Washington, D.C., have even started writing ‘nature prescriptions,’ advising patients to spend a set amount of time outdoors, usually performing an activity of some kind such as, ‘exploring the sports fields near your home.’
“There’s a paradigm shift in the way we think about parks: not just as a place to recreate, but literally as a prescription, a place to improve your health,” says Zarr.
In 47 USA states a new initiative called Walk With a Doc, which sponsors free physician-led community walks, has been established.
Betty Sun, program manager at the Institute at the Golden Gate, which runs Park Rx, says, “It’s about making a positive choice in your life, rather than a punitive choice — like ‘You’re sick, take a pill.’ It just seems so much more supportive.”
In short, let’s all get outdoors, spend some time running around the park and walking through the forest, and watch our mental health improve and our life expectancy increase!
American Heart Association. (2018), Spend Time in Nature to Reduce Stress and Anxiety. Online: https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/spend-time-in-nature-to-reduce-stress-and-anxiety
Carver, H. Masterton, W. Parkes, T. (2020) Parks and green spaces are important for our mental health – but we need to make sure that everyone can benefit. Online: https://theconversation.com/parks-and-green-spaces-are-important-for-our-mental-health-but-we-need-to-make-sure-that-everyone-can-benefit-142322.
Ducharme, J. (2019), Spending Just 20 Minutes in a Park Makes You Happier. Here's What Else Being Outside Can Do for Your Health. Online: https://time.com/5539942/green-space-health-wellness/
Williams, N. Ph.D. (2022) Benefits of Spending Time Outdoors. Online: https://www.news-medical.net/health/Benefits-of-Spending-Time-Outdoors.aspx