When their patients are sick, many doctors tend to reach for the prescription pads.  

Heart disease? Might need a beta-blocker. Diabetes? Time for some insulin. Feeling blue? An antidepressant should do the trick.

Sure there are times when all of these medications are needed, but a new community health initiative in Washington, D.C., is asking doctors to consider if a different type of prescription might be in order in certain situations.

DC Park Rx is a conglomerate of the D.C. chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Park Service, the D.C. departments of Health and Parks and Recreation, U.S. Health and Human Services, National Environmental Education Foundation, George Washington University, National American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Recreation and Parks Association. Their goal? To encourage doctors to prescribe nature for the patients in addition to — or possibly even instead of — other medications.

It's a pretty brilliant idea. People who spend time in nature tend to be healthier both physically and mentally than those who don't. That could mean fewer medications and more healthy, happy patients. And there is also an additional benefit that the parks administrators are counting on: people who enjoy spending time in nature tend to do more to protect those natural spaces. Thus, prescriptions for nature help to protect the health of the patients and the future of the D.C. area parks.

According to EcoWatch, an environmental watchdog group, more than 500 prescriptions for nature have been given out over the past several months by D.C. health care providers. Doctors have given nature prescriptions to treat everything from obesity to asthma to mental health disorders.

No word yet on whether these prescriptions are benefiting the patients or the parks, but DC Park Rx committee members hope to create a rating tool that can be used by both doctors and patients to evaluate the effectiveness of prescribing nature. 

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