Should Doctors Prescribe Outdoor Activity?

should doctors prescribe outdoor activity?

Did you know there’s a movement out there that’s researching and encouraging outdoor activity and nature as treatment for disease, instead of prescription drugs?

It’s a thing—a growing thing.

I’ve been getting emails inviting me to a conference put on by an organization called Shift. The theme this year (and last year) is “Outdoors RX.”  Exploring the use of nature and outdoor activity as prescription alternatives to medical drugs.

When you think about it, in the old days this was pretty common. Those who could afford it would leave the city and go to the seaside or the mountains to recuperate. The fresh air, relaxation and outdoor activity would do wonders.

Then the discovery of penicillin and development of all kinds of synthetic medications—and the rise of the multi-trillion dollar pharmaceutical industry—have made us modern folks forget that stuff.

But nature and outdoor activity as a means of healing is back in style. At least it’s starting to be. Here are a few articles to take a look at…

bighorn canyon trail
Activity and beauty restore the body and the soul (Big Horn Canyon, Montana)

“10 Health Problems that the Outdoors can help Prevent and Treat”

Most of the content in this article on has been covered on Active Outdoor Women, either in the newsletter or on the blog—or both:

  • Obesity and obesity-related problems like diabetes, cancer and cardio diseases
  • High blood pressure
  • Mental health issues like depression, anxiety and stress
  • Osteoporosis and osteopenia  (weakening of the bones)
  • Nearsightedness (for real! read the article)
  • Dementia
  • Asthma and other lung diseases
  • Pain and injuries
  • Addictions
kayaking on the st croix river Wisconsin
Outside activity invites a healthier, slower pace of life (St. Croix River at the Wisconsin/Minnesota border)

“Science’s Newest Miracle Drug is Free”

Brought to you from Outside magazine online, here’s a quote from the article by pediatrician, Dr. Robert Zarr:

“In a world where we increasingly live our lives indoors, we are starting to think about nature not just as a place to recreate, but also as a social determinant of health.”

Dr. Robert Zarr

According to the article, the nature-as-prescription movement has exploded, although I personally hear very little about it in my world—except when I specifically look for it.

And, of course, the word “newest” in the title is intentional irony, since the article acknowledges that outdoor activity has been prescribed by physicians in various cultures for several thousand years.

lake superior, north shore
How can beauty like this NOT be healing?! (Lake Superior, Minnesota)

“Natural Medicine: More Doctors Prescribing Time Outdoors”

This article also cites Dr. Zarr, saying he writes out a couple prescriptions for his patients each day for outdoor activity instead of prescription drugs.

It also refers to a law passed a year ago in the UK, specifically in the Shetland Islands, allowing doctors to prescribe outdoor activity as an alternative to drugs.

Here’s a 2-minute video from the National Park Service with an overview:

Some of you know I write for a paddle company called Bending Branches, and their partner brand, Aqua-Bound.

Last month we published a post featuring one of their ProStaff, a gentleman from Scotland, living in Norway. He credits sea kayaking with enabling him to get off all the medications he was on, including those treating him for bi-polar.

(He doesn’t get into that in the post, but talks about it in more detail in another article he sent me.)

And we just published this post featuring a Wisconsin-based non-profit that helps military and first responder veterans and active-duty folks deal with PTSD through outdoor activities like rock climbing, kayak fishing and horseback riding. And it’s working.

That’s big time. This is real, folks!

And very, very encouraging.

(This content was first published in Active Outdoor Journal. You can get it every month, too: Sign up here!)

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