10 reasons why doctors should prescribe parks

There is a growing body of evidence that shows the benefits to human health and wellbeing of spending time in nature.

Participants at Khao Yai Nationa Park Photo: IUCN
  1. Protected areas help preserve intact ecosystems that contain important genetic material — known, or still to be explored — for use in pharmaceutical products.
  2. Half of the 100 most prescribed drugs such as the cancer-fighting Taxol originate from wild species, many of which are found only in protected areas.
  3. It has been calculated that in the United States every US$1 invested in physical activity brings a saving in medical costs of more than US$3. As population density increases worldwide, finding safe places to exercise in can be a challenge. Protected areas offer important opportunities in these circumstances.
  4. A walk in the park reduces the risk of heart disease and diabetes — two leading causes of death worldwide.
  5. Protected areas such as forest reserves help maintain the lungs of our planet. Forests produce oxygen and filter polluted air, helping to limit respiratory disease.
  6. Programmes of outdoor nature-focused activity to supplement traditional forms of care for mental health clients have resulted in increased confidence and feelings of wellbeing and a reduced dependence on prescription drugs.
  7. Nutrition is a key component of health. One billion people rely on fish for their main source of animal protein. Marine protected areas play a critical role in conserving fish stocks worldwide.
  8. Research on forest walking suggests that exercising in green environments offers health benefits that city strolls can’t match. A Japanese doctor has shown that immune function improved and the number of cancer-fighting cells increased after a three day walking trip.
  9. Around 783 million people lack access to safe drinking water. Well managed protected areas help keep ecosystems such as river basins healthy, in turn helping to reduce the risk of diseases caused by unclean water.
  10. Depression is a leading cause of healthy years being lost due to disability, while contact with nature is a proven aid for improving mental health.
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