Recreation Northwest shares the belief that every person should enjoy in the abundance of opportunities for healthy active living.
As noted in the 2013 Whatcom County Community Health Improvement Plan, people in Whatcom County are generally healthy, but there are challenges in particular pockets of our community.
- Low income, lack of work, limited education, geographic isolation, and minority racial or ethnic backgrounds are factors that correlate with less opportunity for good health and higher risk for poor health.
- Rates of overweight and obesity are growing, especially among low income, racial/ethnic minority groups and outlying & unincorporated areas of the county.
- Racial/ethnic minority and lower income populations live in areas with fewer opportunities healthy active living.
- Mental Health is a particular challenge for our community.
Benefits of Nature
There is a growing consensus nationally that nature has many health benefits, from increased physical activity to mental, emotional, and community health benefits.
- Nature exposure has demonstrated benefits for general wellbeing as well as for specific outcomes including anxiety and depression, as well as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- Being outdoors is proven to help a wide range of physical health issues, including increasing physical activity in children, increasing vitamin D in people of all ages, and decreasing blood sugar for diabetics.
- Public parks and green open spaces have social, economic, and environmental benefits for our surrounding communities.
Numerous national initiatives connecting people to parks highlight a readiness to act. Leading the way, is the Healthy Parks, Healthy People initiative from the National Parks Service with goals of improving the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities through regular use and enjoyment of parks. Other complementary initiatives are moving forward from the Centers for Disease Control, American Recreation Coalition and the Let’s Move initiative from First Lady Michelle Obama.
Within Healthy Parks, Healthy People – Park Prescriptions is a movement to strengthen the connection between the healthcare system and public lands.
- By increasing the prescription of physical activity in nature, we can prevent or treat health problems caused by inactivity and poor diet.
- By supporting people in discovering fun ways to be healthy using their local public lands, we promote stewardship.
D.C. doctor’s Rx: A stroll in the park instead of a trip to the pharmacy (our inspiration program)
Our Community, Our Health
Whatcom County has a strong network of parks and trails and many robust active outdoor programs and we will build on these community assets and strength. Our plan is to bring together the leaders of these programs, managers of our public lands and health practitioners to move the county forward in its goal of promoting healthy active living. Specifically focusing on fostering a sense of place, community connection and improved health through a Park Prescriptions style program.
Moving Forward in Whatcom County
A Park Prescription style program is completely adaptable to the current and evolving needs of Whatcom County’s diverse populations and communities. After a rigorous year of needs assessment, partner development, and data collection, we are ready to launch our Parkscriptions Pilot Program in Whatcom County in 2017 thanks to our steering committee made up of health practitioners and representatives from local park departments and the Whatcom County Health Department.
Based on a successful Park Prescriptions program in Washington DC— Park Rx— we are focusing on the development of educational materials and a comprehensive online database of our local parks and trails to serve as the key resource of our program. The database and maps will be accessible primarily through smart phones (by the patient) and laptops/ tablets (by the health practitioners) and will be used to prescribe a specific outdoor location and activity. For a child, it might be to walk three blocks to their neighborhood park three times a week with a sibling and play catch. For a senior, it could be to walk a mile on a level, smooth-surfaced trail with mile markers at a park near their home four times a week. Many of the patients are people new to both our local parks and trails as well as to daily exercise, and it is our goal to make it as easy and compelling as possible. As we have learned from discussion with many healthcare providers, we need to make active time outside as easy as taking a pill.
We will pilot the program with Family Care Network in the first year. Family Care Network’s focus on wellness for the entire family through their network of family physicians and nurse practitioners in fourteen locations will reach a good cross-section of the population in order to test out the resources and get a sense of who is using the program, who is benefiting and what populations make sense to work with in future phases.
We envision layering in a new segment of health practitioners and their target patients each year of the program. From our initial conversations the groups we plan to focus on in the early years are the following: Lummi Nation (possible youth focused to start), seniors, kids, veterans, diabetics, obesity, ADHD, post-operation & physical therapy patients and mental health practitioners and patients. Developing bi-lingual resources to reach farm workers is also a goal, as is expanding to more rural sections of the county which will likely need to be paired with efforts to expand the inventory of safe and accessible parks and trails.
Questions? Or to get involved contact April Claxton at 360-223-5262 or April@RecreationNorthwest.org.
Encouraged by growing evidence that spending time in nature improves physical and mental health, we are excited to be a part of improving the health and wellbeing of all Whatcom County residents, especially those with high health needs, through regular use and enjoyment of parks.
Rene Laventure, Counselor, PhD, LMHC