"I have a StairMaster right in my own basement, but honestly it's been there for years gathering dust and making me feel guilty," said Miriam, one of my patients. "It wasn't until I started walking the three-mile trail in the park near my house that I got serious about exercising. I do it now rain or shine. I love the fresh air. The best part is that I get a great workout and don't even mind sweating."
At this point, I have heard enough variations on Miriam's story that I have started to make formal "park prescriptions." The prescribing instructions are considerably more detailed than ones you might get with a medication; they include the location of a local green space, the name of a specific trail and, when possible, exact mileage.
It turns out I am not alone. I've begun hearing about doctors around the country who are medicating their patients with nature in order to prevent (or treat) health problems ranging from heart disease to attention deficit disorder.
Eleanor Kennedy, a cardiologist in Little Rock, helped create a downtown "Medical Mile" with the support of local funders and the National Park Service's Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program. "If my patients feel that they can get outdoors, they are more likely to be consistent about exercise," she told me. "Whether you are waddling, walking or running, going out and exercising will help build your confidence, flexibility and adaptability." And it will also be good for your heart -- a particular benefit in Arkansas, where rates of heart disease and stroke, as well as obesity and diabetes, are among the highest in the country.