Doctors Warn That Hiking is Contagious

A path going through a forest.

Doctors are increasingly writing new prescriptions for an old remedy: time in nature. As part of the burgeoning Park Rx movement, health care providers throughout the country are encouraging patients to use parks to reap the benefits of nature’s healing properties.

U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, health care providers, and hundreds of people recently celebrated the first National Park Rx Day by participating in outdoor activities.

“Nature is good for us – it is a great antidote to a variety of ailments, including obesity, heart disease, and depression,” said Jarvis at a National Park Rx Day event in Seattle. “A growing number of public health officials now prescribe time in parks for the overall well-being of their patients. In fact, it is becoming a standard medical practice to tell patients to take a hike.”

Nature-based applications to prevent and treat ailments are growing in popularity. In Washington, D.C., health care providers connect green space and park data to an electronic medical record to refer patients to parks for improved physical and mental fitness. In Miami-Dade County, Fla., children receive prescriptions to exercise in parks. And, in Marin City, Calif., the community’s new Park Rx program encourages residents to discover and use national park trails to stay active.

During National Park Week Park Rx Day events were held at 40 sites across the country and included guided walks, educational talks, yoga, wildlife tours, bike rides, and free public health screenings. Dozens of partners participated, including Kaiser Permanente, Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC, Unity Health Care Inc., D.C. American Academy of Pediatrics, NatureBridge, Institute at Golden Gate, American Hiking Society, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, U. S. Forest Service, California State Parks, YMCA, and Latino Outdoors. U.S. Surgeon General Murthy attended a Park Rx Day event in Rock Creek Park, a national park in Washington, D.C., to encourage visits to parks as part of his larger Step it Up!  Campaign to promote walkable communities.

“We know that an average of 22 minutes a day of physical activity – such as brisk walking in a national park – can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes,” said Murthy. “The key is to get started because even a small first effort can make a big difference in improving the personal health of an individual and the public health of the nation.”

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