Should MH professionals “prescribe” outdoor activity?

The online magazine Slate posted an interesting article on July 25, 2014 about some physicians who are “prescribing” physical activity, particularly outdoor activities. It cites one physician who was interviewed for the article, Robert Zarr, M.D., who has been prescribing time outside for, “conditions as wide-ranging as ADHD, high blood pressure, asthma, obesity, diabetes, and depression.”

The article notes that the physicians used to routinely prescribe something sort of in the ball park of this, in that back in the 1800s they would typically send patients to sanatorium’s or health resorts. The article also notes that treatments with research support for their effectiveness, particularity medications, have made such treatments seem “quaint” (the article does not get into the fact that some of this research was fudged, some of the research now finds that medications are less effective than originally claimed, and there’s increasing research in support of non-medication therapies).

The article notes that there now is increasing research evidence in support of the benefits of activity in general, and outdoor activities, in particular. It cites an interesting research in support of this. It also discusses how some people are more aware of the benefits of going to the gym and using resources like “walking desks,” but goes on to discuss the high level benefits obtained by being outdoors and being active.

The article ends with a comment from Dr Zarr about how there is often a time lag between learning about research outcomes, and actually putting them into practice. Obviously, the thinking is that it is time for physicians, and mental health professionals, to add such “prescriptions” to our repertoire of interventions.

My take away; there is no downside to encouraging the people that consult us to be more active, encouraging them to do activity outdoors on a regular basis, and perhaps even playfully “prescribing”
these as therapy interventions. In the other hand, there is plenty of upside to doing this.

Richard Sethre, PsyD, LP

Minneapolis

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