The latest trend in medicine? Outdoor exercise

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

Writing for The Washington Post, physician and University of California, San Francisco, medical professor Daphne Miller makes a strong case for what she calls a growing trend: Doctors prescribing outdoor exercise for their patients. After seeing how the lure of the outdoors can motivate those who can’t stand the sight of another treadmill or stationary trainer, Miller has started handing out detailed “park prescriptions” that direct her patients to specific parks and trails. It’s a practice she says colleagues across the country are adopting.

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Tolay Lake Regional Park in Sonoma County, Calif. Photo by ultralightly via Flickr.

Eleanor Kennedy, a cardiologist in Little Rock, helped create a downtown “Medical Mile” with the support of local funders and the National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program. “If my patients feel that they can get outdoors, they are more likely to be consistent about exercise,” she told me. “Whether you are waddling, walking or running, going out and exercising will help build your confidence, flexibility and adaptability.” And it will also be good for your heart — a particular benefit in Arkansas, where rates of heart disease and stroke, as well as obesity and diabetes, are among the highest in the country.

Folks on the park side of the equation are no less thrilled about the rediscovered mental and physical health benefits of the outdoors; National Park Service officials are hoping to prepare a “park prescription” tool kit for doctors and local parks and health organizations are starting to cooperate across the country.

The NPS’s Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program has projects in nearly every state and provides a state-by-state breakdown of the projects that might help reporters localize this story.

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