Nature & Trees: Free Medicine for All

All too often, we visit the doctor and leave with a prescription for some kind of pill.  We take the prescribed dosage and are supposed to feel better within a few days. Physicians commonly diagnose a patient and simply write a drug prescription. And, as patients, we’re conditioned to do what the doctor says.

While prescription medicine has benefits, there is great value in taking a step back and thinking about medicine out of the box.  One way this is happening is with a growing movement bringing nature and the outdoors into medicine. Progressive doctors and hospital groups are prescribing nature, and even putting it their patients’ medical health records! They’re asking patients to spend time each week playing tennis, visiting a nearby park, taking a walk outside, etc. and many have coined these as ‘park prescriptions’. By framing recommendations to be active outside as prescriptions, patients are more motivated to take action and actually do them.

There are over four hundred reliable studies that have proven that being outdoors among the trees and other elements in nature has significantly helped patients suffering from obesity, mental health issues, and certain chronic conditions. Nobody is claiming that this is a ‘cure all’, however, there are proven mental and physical health benefits of spending time outside. 

The benefits of being in nature and among are trees are plentiful.  Here’s just a few of them:

  • Relaxation – studies have proven that time spent outdoors results in lower blood pressure and reduce other stress markers.
  • Physical Activity – being outside and exercising is key to our health and being outside encourages people to do physical activity (hiking, biking, gardening, strolling, etc.)
  • Social Support – parks and other areas outside are social settings. Interacting with others helps prevent loneliness and helps bring community.
  • Mental Health – time spent among the trees or in other green areas outside can improve a person’s mood, and reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.
  • Inflammation Reduction – enjoying the beauty of nature has proven to lower levels of inflammation in some people
  • Positivity – nature can bring about feelings of generosity, perspective, and selflessness in people
  • Respiratory Improvement – getting a ‘breath of fresh air’ helps reduce risks of respiratory problems, cancer and heart disease – just a few of many ailments that can result from pollution

In addition to ‘park prescriptions’ the movement of nature as medicine is growing in other ways throughout the U.S.  Walk With a Doc, which sponsors free physician-led walks in various communities, is now active in 47 states and our National Park System recently launched Healthy Parks Healthy People program which promotes getting people outside for their health. Also, more and more counselors are now doing sessions outdoors to help combine the benefits of therapy with the healing power of nature.

Corporate America is also getting in on the growing movement to encourage people to go outdoors.  REI, a sporting goods retailer with 154 stores in 36 states, will be closed this Friday also known as ‘Black Friday’, the biggest shopping day of the year.  By closing, the company is foregoing millions of dollars in sales.  Instead of participating in Black Friday, they’re encouraging their employees to go outdoors instead and still get paid for it!  The message they’re sending is not just going outdoors for one day, but for people to go outdoors for at least a few minutes each day, or few weeks each year – the benefits will be significant!

There are many mental, physical and social benefits of being in nature. Here are some ideas to help motivate you and your family to head outside and take in some Vitamin N:

  • Plan a camping trip. This can be to a local lake, mountains, beach, or even in your own backyard. Camping with family can take you away from daily stress and make for a memorable experience.
  • Plan a tecno-fast vacation. Leave the cell phone and laptop at home and go somewhere “off the grid”. Take hikes, swim, play a game of soccer or football – just do it without the use of technology (this can be harder for most than it seems).  If it’s not possible for a family member to leave the cell phone at home, plan the vacation to a place where there isn’t any reception – that way, it’s not your fault when their cell phone doesn’t work!
  • Start or join a nature club. This is a great way to get outdoors and also create a social opportunity with other members of the community.
  • Put nature on the calendar. You most likely plan ahead for vacations, sport commitments and other events. Why not put nature on the calendar as well? That way, everybody involved knows in advance and it’s something you will be more likely to make time for.
  • Plant a tree memorial. With The Living Urn’s patented biodegradable urn and planting system, you and your family can plant a tree memorial of a loved one with a special tree urn containing some or all of your loved one’s ashes. A planting ceremony is a great way to honor a loved one and to be among nature. This can be a place where you plan to visit each day, week, month, or year as a family. It gets you outdoors and lets you reflect on your loved one with the tree planted in his or her honor. They also have a version for pets!