Chronic illnesses among children have grown in number over the past years, and doctors continue to find solutions beyond their clinics and medicines. What doctors found is to prescribe nature to their patients, and that means more time spent outside the homes. Research from pbs.org sought medical evidence from physicians in Oakland, California in proving that a break from urban life can lead to positive results in health.
Tina Igbinakenzua belongs to many mothers who believe raising children is a real challenge. Everyday, Tina has wakes up early, takes her kids to school, prepares food, and gets them ready again for school the next day. All the frantic chores under Tina is followed with stress and exhaustion.
One of the solutions Nooshin Razani, a primary care doctor, thought of is to prescribe Tina’s whole family a time outside to be in nature. The prescription says to walk around Lake Merritt three times weekly.
Razani works at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, and like her colleagues, they check their patient’s time spent in the great outdoors like their pulse, blood pressure, and weight. They aim to prescribe outdoor time as much as they prescribe pills, and keep the dosage high.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in five children in the US is obese. Furthermore, depression and anxiety had swelled in number in America in recent years.
Dr. Razani mentioned about low-income families experiencing barriers from getting outside. With the hospital’s program called SHINE, the families are brought to big yellow buses and head out the roads of Oakland to Lake Chabot Regional Park.
The SHINE program lets families spend time in the great outdoors, sit around campfires, and just let the children run free in nature.
Studies show that exposure to nature lowers stress, anxiety, depression, and even bring positive effects to pre-term labor, asthma, and nearsightedness.
In an interview with Dr. Razani, she said, “If you take an urban adult into a forest, within 15 minutes, you see improvements in cortisol, blood pressure, heart rate. But more convincing to me is the fact that people who live in green areas live longer.”
Although the way nature affects the body isn’t yet fully proven, theories say that humans have natural stimuli to trees, water, singing birds, and all other beautiful things nature has to offer. Furthermore, nature could be resetting people’s fight or flight response, which is typically high in urban, modern living.
With the SHINE program, Dr. Razani completed trials among the low-income families and the effects of park prescriptions on their health and body.
Dr. Razani found that “Every park visit resulted in improved stress for parents. And every park visit resulted in improved resilience for a child. But it didn’t matter if they came with us or they went on their own.”
The SHINE program is part of the 80+ outdoor prescription programs taking place across America’s 34 states that’s being monitored by the Park Prescription Census in the last ten years.
The prescriptions vary from general encouragement to old-fashioned scripts. However, why does it need to be written in orders rather than just telling the patients?
In an interview from PBS.org, Paula Morena, another outdoor-prescribing physician answered the question saying, “if I’m writing this prescription, it’s a form of an agreement between me and the patient. It’s — but it’s more for the patient themselves to take more accountability for their health.”
Apart from children and stressed-out families, the program has also gained attention elsewhere like San Francisco’s VA Medical Center, where they prescribe time in nature to the veterans who are suffering from PTSD and anxiety.
Patient Vercinia Vinzant was under service for 22 years, which resulted in anxiety and fear to go outside her home.
She received a prescription for outdoors and shared, “when I first started this, I’m like, oh, come on, seriously? Going outside is going to help what, really? But, amazingly so, it does help.”
However, there are still critics who believe that nature prescription is a fad rather than true.
Doctor Razani believes otherwise, saying, “I think, actually, what we’re doing is common sense. The problem is that society has shifted so far away from common sense.”
“I’m hoping that, rather than a fad, that kind of becomes an accepted standard of living and human right, not only for kids, actually, for everyone,” she added.