NEWS

Canada Lets Doctors Prescribe Trips to National Parks

woman walking across rocks in national park

Jordan Siemens / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Canadians can qualify for nature prescriptions, a doctor recommendation to spend time in nature.
  • Thanks to a new partnership, patients can access natural parks for free when receiving a nature prescription.
  • Similar initiatives are popping up in countries across the world.

In November 2020, BC Parks Foundation launched PaRx, Canada’s first nature prescription service and educational resource. It provides medical professionals with detailed instructions on how best to prescribe their patients with time in nature.

PaRx recommends that people spend a minimum of two hours a week in nature in at least 20-minute intervals. This stems from research that found people who spent two hours or more in nature per week had a greater likelihood of good health and wellbeing. 

Today, the initiative has over 1,000 prescribers across British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. That number may soon increase thanks to an exciting new partnership: Parks Canada has partnered with PaRx to create greater awareness of and access to time in nature. The agency manages Canada’s 38 national parks, among other natural spaces throughout the country. 

“​​There's a strong body of evidence on the health benefits of nature time, from better immune function and life expectancy to reduced risk of heart disease, depression and anxiety, and I’m excited to see those benefits increase through this new collaboration,” Dr. Melissa Lem, a family physician and director of PaRx, said in a statement

As a result of this collaboration, participating PaRx medical professionals can prescribe an Adult Parks Canada Discovery Pass, covering year-long admission to over 80 destinations across Canada. PaRx recommends that prescribers prioritize people living near applicable sites, such as national parks and national marine conservation sites, as they will be more likely to use it.

Typically this retails for 72.25 CAD for adults (about 57 USD). Including the pass for free with prescriptions breaks down a tremendous barrier for people who may not have financial access to the national park system otherwise. 

“We practically live in virtual worlds, so nature no longer feels natural for many of us. Now more than ever, it’s important to set an intention to regularly spend time in nature,” says Rebecca Phillips, MS, a licensed professional counselor and EMDR therapist with her own practice, Mend Modern Therapy. “I often prescribe nature for patients who struggle with chronic stress, anxiety, and depression. My patients often report improved clarity, mood, and energy when spending time in nature becomes part of their routine.” Phillips notes that people often feel the positive effects immediately.

Heather Kent, a registered psychotherapist and Canadian certified counselor

For those who live in countries who do not yet have such mental health programs in place, consider 'writing your own nature prescription' for yourself: decide to prioritize getting outside for two hours each week and put it in your calendar as an appointment.

— Heather Kent, a registered psychotherapist and Canadian certified counselor

Similar nature-based initiatives exist or are being explored in countries such as New Zealand, Japan, Australia, Sweden, Singapore, and the United States. 

The latter is spearheaded in part by Park Rx America, a nonprofit established in 2017 with the goal of using nature prescriptions to “decrease the burden of chronic disease, increase health and happiness, and foster environmental stewardship.”

The Benefits of and Ways to Spend Time in Nature

As previously discussed, these programs pull from a slew of data showing the positive aspects of nature breaks. Take a 2021 study of people aged 14 to 24 in the United States in which 51.6% of respondents said they feel calm when in nature and 87.8% said they would like to spend more time in nature. 

According to Heather Kent, a registered psychotherapist and Canadian certified counselor, the benefits of spending time in nature include: 

  • Decreased depression and anxiety symptoms
  • Increased happiness
  • Improved sleep
  • Increased sense of gratitude
  • Less anger and aggression
  • Better cognitive functioning

“For those who live in countries who do not yet have such mental health programs in place, consider 'writing your own nature prescription' for yourself: decide to prioritize getting outside for two hours each week and put it in your calendar as an appointment—whether it be a walk through a local park, a trip to botanical gardens, a winter hike through the forest with your dog, or even sitting on a quiet park bench,” says Kent. 

Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, PhD, a psychologist and Hope for Depression Research Foundation media advisor, recommends taking stock of how much time you spend indoors. “We are often so busy with work and personal life that we spend a lot of our time at home or in our respective workspaces,” says Lira de la Rosa. “That is why spending time in nature can be a welcome reprieve. It can provide us an opportunity to disconnect from the stressors of our daily lives. It can also help us feel more grounded and help us slow down.” 

Once outside, be intentional about how you spend your time, says Lira de la Rosa. If you want time away from distractions or screens, leave your phone at home and take in the area with your different senses. 

Rebecca Phillips, MS, a licensed professional counselor and EMDR therapist

I often prescribe nature for patients who struggle with chronic stress, anxiety, and depression. My patients often report improved clarity, mood, and energy when spending time in nature becomes part of their routine.

— Rebecca Phillips, MS, a licensed professional counselor and EMDR therapist

“Take notice of what you see—the textures, colors, diversity of plants and trees, the light filtering in from the sky,” adds Kent. “Pay attention to the smells—the freshness of the air, aromas from plants and flowers. Listen to the sounds that are all around you—the wind moving through the trees, animals scurrying about, babbling brooks or mountain streams, the sound of your footstep."

However, it may make you feel more connected by capturing photos or listening to songs you enjoy. Lira de la Rosa stresses that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to time well spent in the outdoors. The important part is getting out there and reconnecting with the world you call home. 

What This Means For You

Whether you walk with a friend, take a book, or go biking, there are so many ways to enjoyably spend time in nature. Find what works for you and switch it up when you want to try something new.



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2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Zamora AN, Waselewski ME, Frank AJ, Nawrocki JR, Hanson AR, Chang T. Exploring the beliefs and perceptions of spending time in nature among U.S. youth. BMC Public Health. 2021;21(1):1586. doi:10.1186/s12889-021-11622-x