Parkscriptions, a program of Recreation Northwest, connects people with positive outdoor experiences for healthier lifestyles and improved mental and physical health. The growing consensus that nature has many health benefits—including physical, mental, emotional and social health—is even more important during difficult times like our current COVID-19 pandemic.
Step outside and take a big, deep breath of fresh air. Is it refreshing, calming, energizing? How does the bark of a tree feel when you touch it? It may be easy to think of how you expect these to feel, but when did you last take time to actually engage with the air, the tree bark, or closely observe spring’s blooming flowers?
Recreation Northwest encourages Whatcom County residents to get outside and take time to observe our surroundings, knowing that spending time in nature improves our positive outlook and specifically demonstrates benefits for symptoms relating to anxiety and depression. These symptoms may be increasing for many in our community at this time.
Recreation Northwest continues to encourage individuals to spend time in nature while also using the recommendations the CDC outlines for preventing the spread of the virus. There’s no doubt that public parks and green open spaces have social, economic and environmental benefits for our surrounding communities.
Recent research supports the mental and physical health benefits of spending two hours a week outside, which is just over only 17 minutes a day. In a study of 20,000 adults in England, research showed that people who spent 120 minutes or more time outside in green spaces—whether that be in a backyard, park, or on a walk—reported substantially better health and overall well-being.
Time outside provides opportunities for increased levels of vitamin D for people of all ages, lower blood pressure, and as benefits for specific symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Recreation Northwest recognizes that nature is not only nice to look at, but is good for everybody’s health. Their Parkscriptions program partners with local doctors and healthcare agencies to provide park prescriptions for time outside to improve the community’s overall well-being and promote healthier lifestyles that are inclusive to everyone.
“We work with healthcare providers, programs, and local landowners—like the City of Bellingham—to get people outside,” says Elizabeth Nelson, Parkscriptions program director.
The Parkscriptions program runs year round, connecting health care providers like Unity Care NW and Family Care Network with information, promotional materials, and resources of local outdoor opportunities that are happening in the community, which physicians can then refer to their patients.
Parkscription.org includes a Park Finder tool, powered by Parks RX America, where visitors can enter their location (city or zip code), required amenities like a playground or wheelchair access, and explore the 186 parks in Whatcom County and all of the Washington State Parks.
Nelson says that some physicians sit down with their patients and explore this tool in prescribing them time outside to improve overall health, and many health providers reference the tool for patients to explore on their own.
The Parkscriptions program is an introduction to navigating nature, which is mindfully engaging all five of the senses while outside. Nelson describes nature navigating as, “getting centered in nature and being able to check out from our normal day-to-day things, being really present with what’s around you then and there.”
Nelson stresses that as we spend 95% of our time inside, we’re losing a lot of our connections to nature, and inevitably are not as healthy mentally or physically because of it. Nature navigating is really taking the time to breathe, listen to the running water, touch the bark on trees, stop to take a pause to observe what’s around us, and let those things sink in.