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Thursday, 22 April 2021

Earth Day 2021: Taking a Walk In the PaRx

Happy Earth Day. If you have been following ecotherapy posts, this one is especially for you.

As of March 2021, the Park Prescriptions Program was launched in Ontario. This enables doctors to give a "PaRx" medical prescription of spending time in nature (Martinko, 2021). 

Why this can be so beneficial it is no mystery to many people throughout the world, across many cultures and varieties of physical environments. The mental and emotional benefits of greenspace and bluespace on people in urban workplaces has been studied, as well as the emotional impacts of low vitamin D and not getting enough sun. 'Forest Bathing' has also been discussed across continents, and the developmental benefits of free play in nature was examined in depth by Richard Louv in his book, Last Child In the Woods.

Louv is also the man who coined the term 'nature deficit disorder'. Unfortunately I don't have a copy of the book anymore, but it might have been in the foreword where he wrote about how he didn't come up with that term intending to add to medical jargon. However, now in the midst of the pandemic it is possible that this descriptive term might resonate with more people than ever.

And for some, maybe especially during Earth Month.

Surprising to many, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) tends to be at its worst starting in the spring. While winter blues is real, seasonal depression takes a new swing in April of each year (CMHA).

This year, there is also a pandemic to deal with that has come with grief for many, and that has stretched on much longer than some us might have anticipated. The third wave that loomed over Ontario for a little while arrived with rain and earlier sunsets and collective complaints of bad sleep; this increase of insomnia over the pandemic in Canada as well as other countries such as China has been dubbed "coronasomnia" (Lufkin, 2021).

Original source unknown. Different versions of this meme
are being reposted all over social media.

There may be many factors driving this, but less time outside may very well be amoung them. Sunlight is known to play a key role in maintaining the body's healthy circadian rhythm, while exposure to artificial lights can be disruptive to this. Experiments from University of Rochester found a nearly 40% increase in vitality of participants spending time outside in green, natural environments. (Heid, 2016).

Referenced Times writer Mark Heid also highlighted this point from Richard Ryans, a psychology professor from University of Rochester: "While more is better, just 20 minutes a day spent in green spaces has an “enhancing effect” on vitality, Ryans says, as long as you leave your smartphone behind. If that’s not possible, packing your place with plants or just looking at photos of nature can chill you out, he says."

And with numbers to sketch out the details or not, many would wholeheartedly attest to the positive associations between lowered feelings of stress, and more good feelings when spending time in nature.

There is also information on park prescriptions available for patients and doctors alike, including on parkprescriptions.ca/prescribers. This page includes explanation on why writing out a PaRx is particularly beneficial to patients. It also touches on how people connecting with nature also benefits the environment as a whole, which extends out including the natural environment and communities (Mackay, 2019). 

This year has been hard on so many people, but time in nature has most certainly softened the blow. In parks and on trails, and while drinking a bit of sun next to plants on windowsils. Some words people have used to describe how they feel in nature include invigorated, peaceful, creative, happier, kinder.

Earth Day is in a sense, a reminder for us to be kind. This Earth Day and every day, may we be kind, and find happiness in the little things.

Sources

CMHA. (n.d.). Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved April 22, 2021, from https://cmha.bc.ca/documents/seasonal-affective-disorder-2/

Heid, M. (2016, April 27). You Asked: Is It Bad to Be Inside All Day? Retrieved April, 2021, from https://time.com/4306455/stress-relief-nature/

Mackay, C. M., & Schmitt, M. T. (2019). Do people who feel connected to nature do more to protect it? A meta-analysis. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 65, 101323. doi:10.1016/j.jenvp.2019.101323

Martinko, K. (2021, March 10). Ontario Doctors Can Now Prescribe Time in Nature to Patients. Retrieved March, 2021, from https://www.treehugger.com/ontario-doctors-prescribe-time-nature-patients-5115293#:~:text=Two hours a week, 20,from time spent in nature

Lufkin, B. (2021, January 25). The 'coronasomnia' phenomenon keeping you from getting sleep. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210121-the-coronasomnia-phenomenon-keeping-us-from-getting-sleep

Visit parkprescriptions.ca/whynature for more information on Canada's PaRx program, and how it helps.

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