Thursday, June 6, 2013

Take Two Hikes and Call Me in the Morning

Review of Park Prescriptions: Profiles and Resources for Good Health from the Great Outdoors

By Sandi Funke, Pepperwood Education Director

Children hiking the preserve at our 2012
Budding Biologists Summer Camp
With obesity levels in the United States at all time highs, some in the medical field are beginning to think beyond treatment of disease towards promoting prevention. In Sonoma County health providers including St. Joseph Health Center , Kaiser Permanente, Alliance Health Center, Sonoma Indian Health Project  and county health services have come together to establish Sonoma Health Action. This collaborative seeks to create a healthier community through collective action. Health Action wants Sonoma to be the healthiest county in California and to this end one of the group’s goals is that residents are physically active. The collaborative has initiated the county-wide iWalk project. This initiative links residents with organized walking events and walking groups all over the county, including hikes at parks and preserves such as Pepperwood.

Pepperwood Stewards, Staff, and family members
hiking Red Hill near Jenner, CA last summer
This burgeoning local connection between healthcare providers and outdoor providers is not just happening here. The Institute for the Golden Gate in collaboration with the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy has produced the report Park Prescriptions: Profiles and Resources for Good Health from the Great Outdoors. This fascinating report describes in clear concise non-academic language, 12 programs created by medical, public health, and park communities from across the country that aim to increase physical activity to improve health.  The report provides an introductory section that describes the way the study was conducted as well key findings that were found throughout the 12 programs.

The case studies describe each program and include helpful visuals and examples of work products.  They also have links to related literature. The Children and Nature Initiative is one of the programs described and is run by the National Environmental Education Foundation. This program holds train-the-trainer workshops to educate pediatric healthcare providers about prescribing outdoor activities to children. They even have bilingual prescription pads! This program works with specific sites that help “fill” the prescription. Similarly, the Prescription Trails New Mexico program aims to identify walking venues that are safe and accessible to patients. The program also provides prescription pads as well as trail maps and online searchable maps. Another program in New Mexico the Step into Cuba Alliance brought a large medical foundation together with partners in the forest service and national park service. Results of the alliance have been new and redesigned trails parks and trails aimed to provide the public with safe places to exercise.

Participants at a recent class hike towards Redwood Canyon
Photo by Gerald & Buff Corsi, Focus on Nature, Inc.
Several case studies were programs driven by parks and included projects close to home. SeeChange Health Insurance has partnered with California State parks to provide park information to clients and reimburse park membership fees. The Golden Gate Community Trailhead Project highlighted a partnership between the local YMCA, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy. Signage was placed outside the YUMCA that highlighted local hike routes. YMCA staff was trained on walking/ hiking routes and the group established a hiking club.

If you’re interested in parks, healthcare, or public policy the report is a great resource. Doctors would especially find it intriguing! For more information check out the Parks Conservancy website or click here to download the report. 

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