Doctors In Canada Can Now Prescribe Free Passes To National Parks

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It probably wasn’t your imagination if you have ever felt better after spending some time outdoors. According to the American Psychological Association, time spent in nature has been shown to have cognitive benefits, such as improved self-control. In addition, it can increase happiness and well-being, improve social interactions, bolster your sense of purpose and decrease mental distress.

And it’s not only good for your mental and emotional health but also your physical wellness. Research shows that exposure to nature can reduce blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension and stress hormone production. Spending time in green spaces could even help you live longer.

Doctors across four Canadian provinces can now recommend time outdoors to their patients. In fact, they can actually prescribe free passes to the country’s national parks.

kids playing outdoors
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PaRx is an initiative of the BC Parks Foundation providing resources, such as tips and handouts, to encourage patients to enjoy the great outdoors. Healthcare providers who register with PaRx receive a unique provider code and instructions for prescribing Parks Canada Discovery Passes. These passes normally cost around $72 for an adult but are being offered free of charge.

The program cites research on the health benefits of time in nature and recommends spending about two hours a week, in at least 20-minute increments, outdoors.

Hautes-Gorges-de-la-Riviere-Malbaie National Park in Quebec
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“There’s almost no medical condition that nature doesn’t make better,” Melissa Lem, a family physician and director of the PaRx initiative, told media. “Visiting a park once is great. But it doesn’t in a very meaningful way reduce the barrier to nature access.”

Similar programs elsewhere have offered regional or local park visits, but PaRx is the first to provide an annual national pass. The program is currently available in British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, with plans to expand to every province and territory in Canada.

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“We are very lucky in Canada to have a world of beautiful natural spaces at our doorstep to enjoy healthy outdoor activities. Medical research now clearly shows the positive health benefits of connecting with nature,” Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault, who is also responsible for Parks Canada, said in a statement. “This exciting collaboration with PaRx is a breakthrough for how we treat mental and physical health challenges, and couldn’t come at a better time as we continue to grapple with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our daily lives.”