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Parks Regulations – Brookings Register

Doctors write prescriptions for medicine all the time. However, have you ever heard of a doctor prescribing a walk in the park?

Although this recipe doesn’t fit in a bottle, it can provide some powerful health benefits. It may sound strange, but doctors can prescribe time outdoors for their patients using a national program, ParkRx.org. This free online program can help a patient track their outdoor activities and discuss more outdoor exercise options with their doctor.

In South Dakota, health care providers can contact the Department of Health to obtain a “Park Prescription” booklet that can be redeemed for a free day pass to any South Dakota State Park or a discounted annual pass. Minnesota, Iowa, Wyoming, Montana and Nebraska all have “Walk with a Doc” programs where you can meet at a public location to walk with a doctor and other health-conscious individuals. Spending time in nature has been proven to improve both physical and mental health.

A review of 20 medical studies of participants who spent time in a forest environment found that their blood pressure was significantly lower after being in a forest than in a non-forest environment. Furthermore, this improvement lasted several days after being in the wooded area. These participants did not have to go for a walk; simply by walking inside, sitting in the woods or looking at the woods, participants were able to lower blood pressure. This worked for both people with high blood pressure and normal blood pressure. It also showed improvement regardless of age, as children, young adults and older adults all had similar findings.

One study found that children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to suffer from myopia. Children who spend more time outdoors also have a lower risk of developing asthma, according to another study. More outdoor play also reduces BMI in preschoolers and reduces obesity in adults.

Time outdoors has also been shown to be associated with better sleep and sleep quality. Spending time outdoors has been linked to improving the immune system and reducing stress. While it is beneficial to spend time in state parks and forests, even walking around your local neighborhood and outdoor “green space” has been shown to have its health benefits.

Of course, no medicine is without side effects. In nature there are many insects, you can get burned by the sun or there are uneven surfaces and loose gravel. So when you go outside, don’t forget to use sunscreen or wear a wide-brimmed hat and have insect repellent if you enter areas where there are mosquitoes and ticks. It is also important to have properly fitting shoes for your adventures to avoid blisters, slips or falls. With all the benefits of spending time outdoors, it makes sense that doctors would write prescriptions for outdoor activities. So go into nature to stay healthy!

Jill Kruse, DO, is part of The Prairie Doc’s team of physicians and currently works as a hospitalist in Brookings. Follow The Prairie Doc at www.prairiedoc.org and on Facebook and Instagram with On Call with the Prairie Doc, a medical Q&A show with health information based on science, built on trust, on SDPB and live streaming on Facebook most Thursdays at 7 p.m