A visit to the doctor’s office can now result in a prescription for a Parks Canada Discovery Pass, to encourage British Columbians to spend more time in nature.
It’s part of a program launched just over a year ago in partnership with the BC Parks Foundation, which has seen local doctors prescribing time outdoors to improve overall health.
But now doctors in British Columbia and several other provinces can prescribe the one-year pass, which covers admission to more than 80 parks across Canada.
Family physician and Parks Program Director Dr. Melissa Lem joined CTV Morning Live on Tuesday to discuss this “unprecedented” prescription.
“It’s the first time in Canada that a doctor, nurse or licensed healthcare professional can actually prescribe nature with something more to their patients,” Lem said.
Lem said that if a doctor thinks a patient might benefit from a dose of nature, all they have to do is click a box on the parks prescription website when recording the patient’s nature prescription.
The BC Parks Foundation will then send the patient a free Parks Canada discovery pass, which would typically cost $72.25 for an adult. Admission is already free for young people aged 17 and under.
Lem said it’s important that the passes get to the patients who need them the most and can use them the most.
“We are asking prescribers to prioritize people for whom the cost of the pass might be a barrier to accessing nature, as well as people who live near these national parks.”
She added that prescribing nature even without the pass is a powerful intervention.
“Research shows that when your doctor writes something down, it increases your motivation to do it,” Lem said.
Lem said there’s also plenty of research showing that spending time outdoors can improve all sorts of health conditions, from diabetes and high blood pressure to cancer care, anxiety and depression.
“Nature’s prescriptions really have the potential to revolutionize the way we think about the role of outdoor spaces in our health,” Lem said.
“We want nature to become one of the four pillars of health, just as important as food, sleep and exercise in preventing disease and promoting well-being.”
The Parks Canada Discovery Pass can also be prescribed by doctors in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.
“We are working on launching across the country over the next year,” Lem said. “So pretty soon anyone across Canada will be able to take advantage of this program and get a free pass.”