Did you know that only five minutes of exercise in nature can boost your mood and  improve self-esteem?

At the Bay Area Open Space Council’s 11th Annual Regional Conference yesterday, Daphne Miller, M.D., Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Family and Community Medicine, UCSF spoke about the “Park Prescription”:  prescribing to patients they spend time in nature. While the convergence of natural lands and health is still a fringe topic, it is a growing area of peer-reviewed research.

Miller explained that she has actually started to give park prescriptions in her office. By using two web-based resources, the California State Parks Find Recreation website and the Bay Area Open Space Council’s Transit to Trails website, she can provide patients a concrete “prescription”:  directions with maps and distances to open space areas.

According to Miller,

Nature has the possibility to be a health care intervention, a prescription, almost like a pill. In many of the studies, there is a dose response relationship.  The more you get, the better the outcome.

She points to recent research published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal. The research looked at people with moderate depression and found a minimum of five minutes outside in greenery decreased depression scores 40-50 percent, more effective than a typical antidepressant, which decrease scores around 20-30 percent.

“Here we have something that is low cost, with few side effects and the potential to deliver real benefits,” explained Miller.

She outlined three areas of focus for this work:

  1. Empowering health providers to prescribe nature: The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) just a few days ago announced its Nature Champions program—a train the trainer program with 40 different health providers to teach them how to actually prescribe nature. The idea it to train health care professionals who will train other providers to refer families to parks, nature centers or wildlife refuges within economically, racially and culturally diverse communities.
  2. Urban planning: How do we make this more accessible and collaborate with urban planners and hospital planners, so patients don’t have to travel long distances to access nature?  UCSF’s new Mission Bay Medical Center integrates numerous green spaces and healing gardens, so patients and visitors can easily access nature.
  3. Viral marketing:  Miller envisions a powerful and viral marketing campaign to educate consumers, with the message, “Ask your doctor about the park prescription.”

So take five minutes and call me in the morning.


Deborah Fleischer is president of Green Impact, a strategic environmental consulting practice that helps companies walk the green talk. Green Impact designs and implements new green initiatives and develops sustainability communications that bring successes to life. You can follow her occasional tweet @GreenImpact.

Sustainability Consulting Bay Area

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