Let’s Go to the Park

    Spending time in nature helps people feel
measurably happier.  Of course, almost any
relaxing activity can help relieve stress and help
us feel happier.  There is just something special
about being in nature that makes it one of the
more effective ways to improve your health and

    Being surrounded by green spaces and
nature parks has been shown to lower stress,
lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, buoy
mood, and improve mental health.  When a trip
to the park also involves walking or other forms
of exercise, that’s a health bonus.

    A recent study published in the International
Journal of Environmental Health Research adds
to the evidence and shows just how little time it
takes to get the benefits of being outside in
nature.  According to the study, spending just 20
minutes in a park is enough to improve well-
being even if you don’t exercise.

    For the study, researchers surveyed adults
who visited urban parks during the summer and
fall. They were given fitness trackers to measure
physical activity but were not told what to do in
the park or how long to stay. Each person also
answered questions about their life satisfaction
and mood, which were used to calculate a
subjective well-being score before and after
their park visit.

    Of interest, physical activity was not
necessary to increase well-being.  Of course, an
abundance of research suggests that exercise
is great for mental health.  No doubt exercise
would have been a bonus.  However, for many
people in the study, merely being in a green
space seemed to be enough to spark a change.

    In Lifestyle Medicine, spending time in nature
is a recommended therapy for many
conditions.  Perhaps “nature prescriptions” can
now become the recommended first line of
therapy as they already have in other countries.

    If you missed my previous thoughts about
The Gifts of Nature” as medicine for the
anxieties and worries of life, you will find more
about why regular trips to the park can be a key
element in a richer and more vibrant life.  Even
winter days have their gifts.  To learn more read,
Can a Winter Walk Change Your Life?

    On your next trip to a nature setting, increase
your benefits by using physical activity as an
extra dose of medicine.  Regular physical
activity can:

  • Improve muscular fitness
  • Aid in the prevention of falls
  • Assist with weight management
  • Improve cognitive function in older adults
  • Prevent and help manage chronic diseases

    Besides helping build strong bones and
muscles, regular physical activity also
decreases the risk factors for type 2 diabetes,
cancer, heart disease, and over a hundred
more diseases.

    Like some of you, I was a child in the days
before Mr. Rogers and Pac-Man.  Instead of
screen time and social media, I played outdoors
with friends or picked flowers and mushrooms
in the woods.  I was blessed to grow up where I
spent time outdoors and many weekends in our
family vegetable garden.  Screen time was at
most an evening G-Rated family TV program.  
The concept of limiting screen time was
unknown. It was a time when life was simpler.

    Today, finding time to be outdoors can be
challenging. Still, it is essential to our well-being.
We have a natural instinct to engage with
nature.  Without exposure to nature, we wither.
With multiplying screens about us and less time
outdoors, it’s easy to see why so many have
developed symptoms of a nature-deficit

 Nancy Neighbors, MD
    Huntsville, Alabama

       Thoughts from Dr. Robert Zarr
                  Founder of Parks Rx

    Just the other day I saw Michael, a 15-year-
old patient of mine.  His 24-hour activity and
food diary revealed 5 hours of screen time on a
school night (split between X-box and TV), 2
slices of pepperoni pizza and watermelon-
flavored powdered beverage for breakfast,
hamburger (without lettuce or tomato) for lunch,
and 4 slices of pepperoni pizza plus
watermelon-flavored powdered beverage for
dinner.  Michael suffers from asthma, obesity,
and a nature deficit.  Unfortunately, this is typical
of many adolescents.

Read more about Dr. Robert Zarr and his
campaign to awaken the medical field to the
benefits of a Park Rx.

            The Birmingham Story

    As a reminder of the possible health
benefits, a Parks Rx sign will be installed in all
Birmingham parks. Read more in The
Birmingham Times and The University of
Alabama in Birmingham News about fulfilling a
need and why doctors see an importance for
more time spent in nature.