Prescribing Time in Nature Improves Health

Canadian Doctors Help Patients Get Outdoors by Prescribing Time in Nature

Carving out the time from busy work and family schedules is a challenge for many of us. But what if your health care practitioner wrote you an official nature prescription?

Enter PaRx—a program that helps health care practitioners in Canada officially prescribe nature. We sat down with PaRx Director, Melissa Lem, MD, CCFP, FCFP, and program participant Lisa Murray-Doran, ND, R.Ac to learn why spending time in nature is good for overall health and how PaRx is helping Canadian NDs get their patients outside. 

Health Benefits of Spending Time in Nature

It’s no secret spending time outdoors improves both physical and mental health. Recent research shows getting outside can improve heart health and immune function and reduce anxiety and depression. Dr. Lisa Doran, ND, has recommended outdoor time to her patients for nearly 25 years. 

Spending two hours per week in nature improve physical and mental well being.

But now, her advice is backed by scientific research. “Forest bathing research shows that trees breathe out chemicals that benefit our immune and nervous systems,” explains Murray-Doran. 

Have you ever felt calmer after a walk in the woods? That’s because trees increase our levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin.

But that’s not the only reason why forest walks improve overall health. “We spend so much time in a 2D world sitting in front of the screen,” explains Murray-Doran. “In the 3D world, our ears have to track the sound of the birds. Our eyes have to watch the uneven ground. Our muscles have to adjust for roots, rocks, and going up and downhill. It makes us feel calmer when our muscles give us the feedback of walking on uneven ground.” 

How Children with Behavior Issues May Benefit

Spending more time in nature can benefit everyone’s health, especially those suffering from anxiety and depression.  

Murray-Doran points to special benefits for children with behavioral issues, ADHD, or who are on the autism spectrum. “They benefit from the sensory input of being outside,” she explains. “They’re moving their legs over uneven ground, rather than playgrounds that tend to be flat and predictable.”

It’s not about rushing kids through a hike —it’s about letting them find something to do. “As adults, we tend to over program things,” says Murray-Doran. “The program is simply ‘let’s discover’. When these kids slow down and find something interesting, their behavior shifts because they can engage in the world. It calms them, rather than overstimulating them.”

How Do Nature Prescriptions Benefit Patients?

Any health care practitioner can recommend that their patients spend time in nature. So, what’s the benefit of official nature prescriptions?

“Evidence shows the writing of a prescription down on a piece of paper increases patient motivation to carry out that advice,” explains Lem. “It’s a way to put a bit of extra oomph into that verbal recommendation.” Based on the latest research, they recommend people spend at least two hours a week in nature, for at least 20 minutes each time.

PaRx entered into a partnering agreement with Parks Canada to reduce financial barriers to nature access. Health care practitioners can prescribe 1  free, annual Parks Canada Discovery Pass per month. Worth approximately CA$70 ($54.50 US), pass holders get unlimited admission to over 80 national parks, marine conservation areas, and historic sites. 

Ultimately, nature prescriptions give patients permission to spend time outdoors. Lem explains, “To hear their physician say it’s important to prioritize nature time, it gives them permission to do so. When patients hear that it is just as important as exercise, sleep, and a healthy diet, they take it more seriously.” 

Dr. Murray-Doran registered with PaRx in early 2022 and has prescribed two passes so far. She reports, “Both patients are planning road trips, and these passes are a bridge-building between our beautiful national parks in Canada and medicine. It legitimizes my recommendations to go and spend some time with nature.”

“Patients say that it’s a joyful prescription they are excited to fill,” states  Lem. “That’s why practitioners keep prescribing nature—because of the feedback they’re getting from patients.” 

The Healing Power of Nature is one of the six principles of Naturopathic Medicine. 

“Medicine doesn’t have to come from a substance we take in, like a pill or tea,” says Murray-Doran. “It can be the air that you breathe, the grass that feels awesome between your toes, the wind in your face, and breathing in what the trees breathe out.”

Are you ready to reap the health benefits of spending time in nature with the support of a Naturopathic Doctor? Use our Find an ND search tool to find a Naturopathic Doctor in your area.

Download this free gift, Nature as Healer eBook from the Institute for Natural Medicine.

This article is provided by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following  initiatives:

  • Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
  • Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
  • Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine


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Farrow MR, Washburn K. A Review of Field Experiments on the Effect of Forest Bathing on Anxiety and Heart Rate Variability. Global Advances in Health and Medicine. January 2019. doi:10.1177/2164956119848654

Park BJ, Shin CS, Shin WS, et al. Effects of Forest Therapy on Health Promotion among Middle-Aged Women: Focusing on Physiological Indicators. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020;17(12):4348. Published 2020 Jun 17. doi:10.3390/ijerph17124348

Stier-Jarmer M, Throner V, Kirschneck M, Immich G, Frisch D, Schuh A. The Psychological and Physical Effects of Forests on Human Health: A Systematic Review of Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(4):1770. Published 2021 Feb 11. doi:10.3390/ijerph18041770 

The Healing Power of Nature. Institute for Natural Medicine.

Wen Y, Yan Q, Pan Y, Gu X, Liu Y. Medical empirical research on forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku): a systematic review. Environ Health Prev Med. 2019;24(1):70. Published 2019 Dec 1. doi:10.1186/s12199-019-0822-8

Zare Sakhvidi MJ, Knobel P, Bauwelinck M, et al. Greenspace exposure and children behavior: A systematic review. Sci Total Environ. 2022;824:153608. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.153608

Anna-Liza Badaloo is a writer and program consultant, working at the intersection of health, environment, and social justice. With over 10 years of experience at non-profit organizations, she brings a combination of content writing, copywriting, and journalism to her work. Using her strong storytelling ethic, Anna-Liza strives to amplify traditionally silenced voices such as BIPOC, youth, and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities.

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Deb Hubers

Debra Hubers is a serial entrepreneur and has started seven businesses; ranging from an advanced genomics to an employer health care purchasing cooperative. Deb has over 35 years of experience in healthcare finance, education, technology, and pharmacogenomics.

Ms. Hubers has dedicated her career to measuring and improving healthcare outcomes. Her expertise is leveraging technology to deliver personalized, preventative medicine. Ms. Hubers co-founded La Vita Compounding Pharmacy in 2007. Collaborating with her business partner, physicians and strategic partners, Deb has grown La Vita to be one of the most respected and sought-after personalized medicine providers on the west coast. She is also Co-Founder of EpigeneticsRx, a leading provider of precise, personalized, prevention which positively impacts genetic expression.

Alex Keller, ND

Dr. Alex Keller, ND, AFMCP is a graduate of the University of Ottawa with an Honours Bachelor in Health Sciences and Psychology. Although originally intending to attend conventional medical school, following a three-month volunteer internship at a rural Kenyan hospital where he observed how doctors used local food to treat patients, he shifted his career goals and pursued a degree in naturopathic medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto.

After one year of practicing with the esteemed Dr. Chris Pickrell, ND, RH in a community acupuncture setting, in 2015 he and his wife Dr. Jenn Keller, ND moved to rural Ottawa, Canada where they started an organic farm and retreat center. In the same year, Alex and his athletic therapist sister Jess Keller combined their practices to form Keller Active Health, an integrative physical therapy clinic.

Ever curious and passionate about the education of evidence-based natural medicine, in 2017, Dr. Keller joined a fledgling Ottawa-based health tech startup named Fullscript. He serves as its Medical Director and oversees the development of medical education content for practitioners across North America.

Prior to medicine, Alex worked in the renewable energy sector, where he developed a deep passion for sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship. This connection between medicine and agriculture now drives Alex to focus much of his energy on bringing awareness to the quality and sourcing standards in the supplement and organic agriculture supply chains.

Today, he splits his professional time practicing as a clinician, working for Fullscript, and expanding the farming operation while chasing his kids with Jenn and occasionally running ultra-marathon trail races. He is also currently completing an Executive MBA through the Quantic School of Business & Technology with a focus on supply chain innovation.

Pamela Snider, ND

Pamela Snider, ND, is Executive and Senior Editor for the Foundations of Naturopathic Medicine Project, producing a first of its kind international textbook of Naturopathic medicine through a series of international retreats and symposia. A nationally recognized integrative health and policy leader, she is active in both national and regional integrative health initiatives. Dr. Snider serves on the Board of Directors, was founding Executive Director and co-founder of the Academic Consortium for Integrative Health (ACIH/ACCAHCa consortium of the councils of schools, accrediting agencies and certifying bodies of the licensed, traditional and emerging integrative health professions, and is currently Vice Chair and co-founder of the Integrative Health Policy Consortium (IHPC).  Dr. Snider served as a founding Board Member of the Academy of Integrative Health & Medicine from 2014-2016. Her public policy work includes completing a two year appointment to the DHHS Center For Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Medicare Coverage Advisory Committee (MCAC); serving as a Steering Committee Member for  the HRSA funded American College of Preventive Medicine NCCIM Integrative Medicine in Preventive Medicine Residency program, co-directing in USPHS Region X the Building Bridges Between Provider Communities Group, an exploration of interdisciplinary collaboration and common ground between public health and CAM; serving for 22 years on Washington State’s Health Professional Loan Repayment and Scholarship Program Advisory Committee (HPLRSP); providing technical assistance to and developing key language for the enabling legislation for NIH Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH/NCCAM); and staffing Joseph Pizzorno ND during his appointment as Commissioner on the White House Commission on CAM Policy.

From 1994-2003, Dr. Snider served as Associate Dean for Public and Professional Affairs and Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University, dividing her work between academic and public affairs activities, including chairing the Naturopathic Medicine Program Curriculum Review Committee.  Dr. Snider has been teaching, publishing and lecturing widely on Naturopathic philosophy, theory integrative health, public policy, and other topics for over 30 years. Currently, an Associate Professor at National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in Portland, OR, Dr. Snider also continues at Bastyr University in her 22nd year as a faculty member teaching naturopathic medicine history, clinical theory, and global context. Among her Naturopathic medicine professional roles she serves on the Institute for Natural Medicine’s Leadership Council.  In 1989, she co-led the naturopathic profession with Dr. Jared Zeff, in developing a unifying definition of naturopathic medicine and its principles of practice adopted unanimously by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) House of Delegates. She was a co-investigator in the 2004 NIH NCCAM research study, the North American Naturopathic Medical Research Agenda and CAM Advisor in NIHCCAM’s Financing Integrative Health Care (University of Washington).  Her areas of experience include healthcare education; naturopathic and interdisciplinary clinical theory, curriculum development; clinical practice; government and legislative affairs, public policy, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community organizing.  Dr. Snider has received the Ontario Naturopathic Physician of the Year Award, the Physician of the Year Award from the AANP, the President’s Outstanding Vision Award and Distinguished Alumnus Award at Bastyr University, AANP’s President’s Award, an honorary Doctorate of Naturopathic Philosophy from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM), the William A Mitchell Vis Award from the AANP and The Gathering – NMSA’s Beacon Award. She received her ND degree in 1982 from Bastyr University of Natural Health Sciences and is a licensed naturopathic physician in the State of Washington. She lives with her husband and children at their homestead in North Bend Washington, in the beautiful mountain to sea landscape and home of The Revival – Restore the Vis, an annual student-led community gathering.

Susan Haeger

Susan Haeger is Founder/Principal of Transformative Health Solutions Inc. She has applied her twenty plus years in executive leadership to help shape and drive adoption of progressive health policy for whole person healthcare. She was a section contributor to the 2021 INM/AANP published professional white paper, Naturopathic Physicians as Whole Health Specialists: The Future is Whole Person Health Care that provides supporting evidence for the profession’s significant and unique contributions to preventive, whole person care and models of integrative clinical practice.

Bruce Barlean

Bruce Barlean is an owner and founder of Barlean’s, a global dietary supplement manufacturer located in the Pacific Northwest in Ferndale, WA. Bruce has been actively involved in the Natural Products industry since 1989 and is passionate about making a difference in the world and positively impacting the lives of others.

Bruce believes that people can make a difference in the world through ordinary purchases. He is committed to improving the quality of life for every person on the planet by making the best products and by using the profits to support outreach programs. Bruce summarizes it simply, “We make good stuff to do good stuff”.

In the late 1980’s Bruce became passionate about how health could be dramatically improved with Flax Oil Supplementation. Bruce along with his entrepreneurial parents saw the potential to improve the lives of many people and in 1989 they began selling Flax Oil under the Barlean’s name. From 1989 – 2000 the business grew an average of 40% year over year. While most companies saw a decline in business in the 2001 recession, Barlean’s continued to grow and soon became America’s #1 selling flaxseed oil and continues to be to the present. The brand has since expanded to include additional oils, green food concentrates and other premium supplements. Bruce continues to drive innovation and over the years his products and company have won countless awards including: Eight consecutive Vity Awards for #1 EFA, Six consecutive Vity Awards for #1 Greens Food Supplement, Natural Choice Award for Best Specialty Supplement, Best Product of the Year, Best New Product, Gold Medal Taster’s Choice Award, Gold Medal American Masters of Taste Award, #1 Health Food Store Brand for Consumer Satisfaction by Consumer Lab, and Manufacturer of the Year.

In 2013 as the company was on the eve of celebrating the 25th year in business Bruce and his parents decided to take their desire to help people to a new level that they call Pathway to a Better Life – which is now seen in the Barlean’s logo. Bruce and his parents had always been generous in their giving and support of charities, but as part of the Pathway to a Better Life they decided to increased partnership with charitable organizations such as: Vitamin Angels, Compassion International, KidsTown International, Autism Hope Alliance, Engedi Refuge, Project 92, and others. And because so many people are unable to meet basic nutritional needs, Bruce created a comprehensive Omega-3 and multivitamin formula that he distributes free-of-charge to local food banks. In addition, Bruce decided the company would supply food banks with organic coconut oil to provide people with a health alternative to standard cooking oils.

Always generous with his time Bruce has served as a youth leader for his local church for several years and continues to mentor youth. He has been on several not for profit boards including; Whatcom County Pregnancy Center (2003-2006), Natural Products Association (dates?), and the Institute for Natural Medicine Leadership Council (presently).

The Barlean family have been avid supporters of Bastyr University since the 1990’s and in 2013 were given Bastyr’s most prestigious honor, the Mission Award, which recognizes their leadership over time in improving the health and well-being of the human community.

Bruce currently resides in Ferndale, WA with his wife Lisa and their two dogs: Heinz & Shadow. When he’s not helping others he can be found fishing (catch & release).

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Michelle Simon

Michelle Simon, PHD, ND

President & CEO

As president and CEO of INM, Dr. Simon brings her passion for working with organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of healthcare. This desire stems from her years of practice as a licensed naturopathic physician. In addition to holding a Naturopathic Doctorate from Bastyr University she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She has served on boards for the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI), and several advisory boards. Dr. Simon served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee, as Ambassador to the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine (AIHM) and was recognized as 2018 AANP Physician of the Year. Dr. Simon shares with her husband a passion for adventure travel, preferably by boat or motorcycle. She also enjoys teaching a women’s off-road motorcycling class.