Friday, September 27, 2013

Prescribing nature and outdoor activity


WOODED WALK: A father and daughter enjoy an AMC-sponsored event.

The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) have teamed up to launch Outdoors Rx, an innovative program that gives health care professionals dedicated resources for prescribing regular outdoor physical activity to children. This collaboration combines AMC’s expertise in getting families active with the medical expertise of MGHfC to combat the sedentary lifestyles of overstressed and overscheduled families, which can lead to childhood obesity, Type 1 diabetes and asthma.

“In addition to the widely known benefits of physical activity, research studies have found that exposure to natural environments also improves physical and emotional health,” says Christina Scirica, MD, MPH, an MGHfC pulmonologist and weight expert who serves as the Outdoors Rx medical director. “Exposure to the outdoors has been found to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, vitamin D deficiency, depression and anxiety, and may even improve attention.”

AMC and MGHfC have trained more than 60 medical professionals in the program’s pilot communities of Framingham and Waltham. In addition to primary care pediatric and family practitioners, AMC and MGHfC will work with nurse practitioners, dieticians and nutritionists to write prescriptions. The goal is to have 5,000 outdoor prescriptions written in the first 12 months of the program. Following the pilot year, AMC hopes to expand the program to other communities with additional health care providers.

With a prescription, parents in the pilot communities can register at AMC’s Outdoors Rx website, where they will find a calendar of free, AMC-guided local outdoor programs and information blogs. As extra encouragement to stay active, kids can track their activity and earn points toward outdoor gear rewards, including water bottles and a free stay at AMC’s Ponkapoag Camp in Randolph, Mass. A variety of methods will be used to track the level of each child’s activity before and after the program, including surveys and focus groups. 

Read more articles from the 09/27/13 Hotline issue.

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