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