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Health care providers lead walks across BC on Parks Day

By Contributor
July 15th, 2018

With people increasingly glued to phones and computers, a walk in the park might be exactly what the doctor ordered. But on July 21st they’ll be doing more than just ordering it: they are going out there and leading it. “We want to send a clear message about how important it is to get outside, and the best way to do that is to actually go out and share the experience,” says Dr.

Melissa Lem, one of the 100 doctors and health care providers who will be leading walks in 100 parks across the province.

In June, the Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health (CCMOH) released a statement saying: “Access to active play in nature and outdoors — with its risks — is essential for healthy child development. We recommend increasing children’s opportunities for self-directed play outdoors in all settings — at home, at school, in child care, the community and nature.”

The statement reflects research showing that time spent in nature has significant health benefits.

“We all know nature has a great healing effect, and more and more studies are proving it,” says Doctor Larry Barzelai, of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, co-sponsors of the ‘Outside & Unplugged’ walks. Research has shown that time in nature results in higher standardized test scores, higher graduation rates, and reduced ADHD symptoms. Nature play results in superior motor skills, balance and coordination, along with lower rates of anxiety and depression.

“With almost 8 in 10 Canadians living in cities, it is more important than ever to strengthen Canadians connection to nature,” says Jennie McCaffrey, head of Healthy by Nature – the initiative organizing the walks. Fortunately, the demand is there: 9 in 10 Canadians state they would prefer to spend time as a family outdoors in nature, rather than inside. “We are creating easier access to green spaces and reducing the stress around getting outside with kids,” says McCaffrey, a mom of two young boys.

“Getting outside and unplugged will set children up for a healthier life and more success, creating a generation committed to protecting and preserving the beautiful country that they grew up in.”

The Healthy by Nature movement comes as evidence mounts about health problems that may be associated with our increasingly sedentary, electronics-focused lifestyles. Canadian children are now spending 7.5 hours per day in front of a screen. Currently, only 7% of kids are meeting daily physical activity requirements. There has been a 300% increase in child level obesity since the 1980s, and intimacy and empathy scores in 12-year-olds has declined since the 1990s.

One in 20 Canadian children have ADHD. In addition to the personal and social costs, the economic cost is staggering in terms of costs to the health care system alone. “The good news is that when we recognize we have a problem, we are able to find ways to deal with it,” says Dr. Lem. “Society took on smoking, drunk driving, and not wearing seat belts and in each case improved population health. We can do the same.”

The importance of spending time outside, and the associated health benefits are recognized internationally. In the United States ‘parks prescriptions’ are now part of the health care system, and in Japan, ‘forest bathing’ is just as legitimate a medical activity as physiotherapy.

There is also a movement in education for kids to spend time learning outside. Andy Day, CEO of the BC Parks Foundation and co-sponsor of the walks, thinks BC is the ideal place to become a world leader in these growing fields. “We have one of the largest and most beautiful parks systems in the world, as well as a real outdoor culture” says Day. “You don’t have to go far to experience the healing power of nature.”

The Outside & Unplugged walks will begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 21st at 100 BC Parks across the province. Find out more and Register today at

Categories: Health

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