Instead of Pharmaceutical Drugs, These Physicians are Prescribing Time in Nature and Fruit, Vegetables For Patients


By Carolanne Wright

Contributing writer for Wake Up World

In an age where pharmaceutical drug use is off the charts, a thoughtful group of physicians are using a novel approach and advising their patients to “take a hike” — literally. Park prescriptions have been around since 2008, but the idea is now spreading more widely throughout the U.S. — and around the world — as obesity and mental health disorders have continued to climb. In a similar vein, doctors are also writing prescriptions for fruits, vegetables and other wholesome food, which patients can “fill” at their local market. The result of these unconventional interventions is nothing short of inspiring.

The Healing Power of Nature

A whole new spin on writing prescriptions for patients has people moving — through green spaces, parks and forests, in lieu of popping pharmaceutical meds for what ails them. And it works.

San Francisco physician Daphne Miller is known for writing out “park prescriptions” like this:

  • Drug: Exercise in Glen Canyon Park
  • Dose: 45 minutes of walking or running
  • Directions: Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 7am
  • Refills: Unlimited

Dr. Miller feels it’s easier to maintain an exercise program when we’re outdoors, possibly because of the changing scenery, fresh air or, what she refers to as, “the camaraderie of the trail.” She’s written hundreds of park prescriptions for her patients — which have had great success in curbing a variety of health complaints. And she’s not alone in her unusual prescriptions. Many physicians — particularly pediatricians — are dispensing thousands of these prescriptions to not only get some exercise, but to do it out in nature.

Related reading: Go Out and Play! – 6 Great Reasons to Exercise Outside  

Robert Zarr, a physician in Washington DC, was an early proponent of writing park prescriptions. At one point, he told an obese teen to skip using the bus one way to school and instead, walk through the park. She lost weight and felt happier.

“We’ve really got this down,” he told the audience at a conference in Philadelphia. “I see this as no different from prescribing medicine for asthma or an ear infection.”

Obesity, diabetes and mental health disorders are an increasing problem for children in the U.S. — and it only takes a a few kids with symptoms of ADHD to cause disruption in the classroom, he says, where teachers begin to suggest parents speak with their pediatrician about Ritalin or other pharmaceutical interventions.

Because of a growing body of scientific evidence that contact with nature helps to prevent or ease many of the chronic illnesses associated with urban life, Zarr created an online database of around 350 green spaces in the district, so that physicians can type in their patient’s zip code and find a number of parks in the area. So far, the U.S. has at least 50 programs to get people out into nature for its healthy perks, but new programs are sprouting up all the time.

The trend is catching on in other countries too — like Australia, where experts are now discussing the health advantages of spending time in their natural parks. In the U.K., doctors are writing prescriptions for Green Gyms, where outdoor sessions are lead by members from conservation groups. Not only do the participants improve health and stamina, they also contribute to local green spaces with activities such as planting trees. Moreover, Japan has it’s own health and nature program called Shinrin Yoku, or forest bathing, that encourages people to spend time in the woods to reap a range of healthy benefits.

Back in the United States, prescriptions for outdoor time in nature aren’t the only ones doctors are writing, fruit and vegetable prescription programs are becoming popular as well.

Food As Medicine

Medicines - From Deadly Drugs to Healthy FoodsIn 1965, Jack Geiger — a physician and civil rights activist — founded an unusual community health center in the Mississippi Delta, where prescriptions for food were written for his malnourished patients. He asked grocery stores to send the bill for fruit, vegetables and other nutritious edibles to the health center’s pharmacy. At one point, the Office of Economic Opportunity (which funded the health center) questioned him about the program, he replied that when dealing with a diagnosis of malnutrition, food was medicine.

In the spirit of Dr. Geiger’s original health center, others have followed suit and established programs that prescribe nourishing food for people struggling with health issues. In 2013, Wholesome Wave and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene launched a Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program (FVRx), where participating physicians write prescription coupons that can be redeemed for fruits and vegetables at farmers markets across New York City. Similarly, Boston Medical Center created a Preventative Food Pantry that supplies supplemental and therapeutic foods to patients referred by their doctors. What’s more, Dr. Nimali Fernando of Yum Pediatrics in Virginia has fully integrated food and wellness into her practice — complete with garden-themed office and exam rooms, a teaching kitchen where a variety of cooking classes are held and cooking shows playing in the waiting room.

All in all, these programs are effective in reducing body mass index and stress, which leads to less chronic disease and improved health in the long run. But you don’t need to wait for a prescription — get out into nature and enjoy more fruit and vegetables. Your body, mind and spirit will be the better for it.

Article sources:

About the author:

Carolanne WrightCarolanne Wright enthusiastically believes if we want to see change in the world, we need to be the change. As a nutritionist, natural foods chef and wellness coach, Carolanne has encouraged others to embrace a healthy lifestyle of organic living, gratefulness and joyful orientation for over 13 years.

Through her website, she looks forward to connecting with other like-minded people from around the world who share a similar vision. You can also follow Carolanne on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Further reading from Carolanne Wright:


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