“Prescriptions for Parks”

Prairie Doc Perspective


Doctors write prescriptions for medications all the time. However, have you ever heard of a doctor prescribing a walk in the park? While this prescription will not fit in a bottle, it can pack some powerful health benefits. It may sound strange, but doctors actually can prescribe time outdoors to their patients with the help of a national program, ParkRx.org. This free online program can help a patient track their outdoor activity and discuss more outdoor exercise options with their doctor.


In South Dakota, health care providers can contact the Department of Health to get a ” pad that is redeemable for a free 1 day pass to any South Dakota State Park or a discounted annual pass. Minnesota, Iowa, Wyoming, Montana, and Nebraska all have Walk with a Doc” programs where you can meet at a public location to walk with a doctor and other health-minded individuals. Spending time in nature has been proven to help both physical and mental health.


A review of 20 medical trials of participants who spent time in a forest environment found that their blood pressure was significantly lower after being in a forest than it was in a non-forest environment. Additionally, this improvement lasted for several days after being in the wooded area. These participants did not need to go for hikes, simply walking in, sitting in, or viewing the forest was able to give the participants lower blood pressures. This worked both for people with high blood pressure and normal blood pressure. It also showed improvement regardless of age as children, young adults, and older adults all had similar findings.


One study found that children who spend more time outdoors have reduced rates of nearsightedness. Children who spent more time outdoors also have a lower risk of developing asthma according to another study. Increasing outdoor play also decreases BMI in preschoolers and lowers obesity in adults.

Time outside has also been shown to be associated with improved sleep and sleep quality. Spending time outdoors has been linked to improving the immune system and decreasing stress. While spending time in State Parks and Forests is beneficial, even walking around the local neighborhood and being in an outdoor green space” has shown to have health benefits.


Of course, no medication is without side-effects. The great outdoors has bugs, you can get sunburned or there are uneven surfaces and loose gravel. So when you are going outside, remember to use sunscreen or wear a wide-brimmed hat and have bug repellent if going into areas where there are mosquitos and ticks. It is also important to have proper fitting shoes for your adventures to prevent blisters and slips or falls. With all the benefits of spending time outdoors, it just makes sense that doctors should write prescriptions for outdoor activities. So get out into nature to stay healthy out there!


Jill Kruse, D.O. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices as a hospitalist in Brookings, South Dakota. Follow The Prairie Doc® at www.prairiedoc.org and on Facebook and Instagram featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc®, a medical Q&A show providing health information based on science, built on trust, streaming live on Facebook most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.


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