British Columbia

Nature is healing: Doctors in B.C., other provinces can prescribe Parks Canada passes to patients

PaRx, Canada's first national nature prescription program, is available in B.C., Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, with plans to expand to every province and territory.
Two people walk along a trail near Lost Lagoon in Vancouver, B.C. A growing body of research on the health benefits of nature has led to the creation of PaRx, which lets health-care professionals prescribe spending time in nature as a way to improve physical and mental health. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Doctors and other licensed health-care professionals in four provinces can now prescribe a free pass to Canada's national parks. 

PaRx, Canada's first national nature prescription program, was started by the B.C. Parks Foundation in November 2020 to help health-care professionals develop a "nature prescription" that encourages patients to spend time outdoors as a way to manage anxiety and improve mental and physical health.

Citing a growing body of research on the health benefits of time in nature, the program recommends about two hours a week in nature, for at least 20 minutes at a time.

On Jan. 31, Parks Canada announced its support for the initiative. Licensed health-care professionals who register with PaRx can offer patients a Parks Canada Discovery Pass — which costs around $72 for an adult — free of charge.

Nature can be quite the tonic for mental health and now Parks Canada is onboard with the Prescription for Nature program, we're joined by the CEO at BC Parks Foundation for more.

In Vancouver, the University of British Columbia Botanical Garden and Nitobe Memorial Garden offer unlimited free admission to patients who display a copy of their PaRx prescription along with an ID.

Melissa Lem, a family physician based in Vancouver and president-elect of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, says she hopes the prescriptions will help reduce barriers to access to nature for Canadians.

Health-care professionals who register with the program are asked to carefully consider who they offer passes to. 

"We're really asking them to prioritize patients who live close to Parks Canada sites so they'll have more access and can make it part of their everyday lives, and also those for whom the cost of a pass might be a barrier to nature access," she said. 

Hikers pictured on the Canadian side of the Chilkoot Trail, which leads from Dyea, Alaska to Bennett, B.C. PaRx is Canada's first national nature prescription program, started by the B.C. Parks Foundation in November 2020. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The program is available in B.C., Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, with plans to expand to every province and territory. 

A rare silver lining from the COVID-19 pandemic, Lem says, is that many have reconnected with the nature, as the risk of transmission is lower outdoors compared to indoors.

Recent weather events in B.C., such as last summer's heat dome and wildfires, highlight the importance of safe, natural spaces.

"Rediscovering nature and then realizing how important it is to us has really underlined that nature-health connection," she said.

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