About the Author

Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization supporting the international movement to connect children, their families and their communities to the natural world. He is the author of eight books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" and "The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age." In 2008, he was awarded the Audubon Medal.

THE “VITAMIN N” PRESCRIPTION – Some Health Professionals Now Recommending Nature Time for Children and Adults

In 2009, Janet Ady of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stood before a crowd of grassroots leaders gathered by the Children & Nature Network. She held up an outsized pharmacy bottle. Within the bottle was a physician’s prescription – one that would be as appropriate for adults as it would be for children.

The contents of the medicine bottle included a variety of information, including a Web address to National Wildlife Refuges, a guide to animal tracks, Leave No Trace tips, a link to information on planting native vegetation to help bring back butterfly and bird migration routes, a Power Bar, and other items – including a temporary tattoo of migratory birds.

The label read: Directions: Use daily, outdoors in nature. Go on a nature walk, watch birds, and observe trees. Practice respectful outdoor behavior in solitude or take with friends and family. Refill: Unlimited. Expires: Never.

Here’s a cost-effective way to improve the health of children and adults. An expanding body of primarily correlative scientific evidence points in a single, common-sense direction: Getting children outside can be good for their health. And getting them outside in nature may well offer special benefits.

Contact with the natural world appears to significantly reduce symptoms of attention deficit disorder in children as young as five. Nearby nature, and even a view of nature from a bedroom window, can reduce stress in children. Children in greener neighborhoods appear to have lower body weight changes. Spending time outdoors may help prevent myopia.

Natural environments, such as parks, foster recovery from mental fatigue and may help children as well as adults learn. Green exercise may offer added benefits when compared to equal exertion in indoor gyms. In hospitals, clinics and medical offices, incorporating nature into the design helps people of all ages reduces stress, improves health and cognition. What if our schools, homes, workplaces and cities were designed with such natural benefits in mind?

Within the health professions, interest in the nature prescription is already growing. Healing gardens on hospital grounds are now popular. Dr. Daphne Miller, a general practitioner in Noe Valley, California., envisions nature prescriptions as part of the burgeoning field of integrated medicine. “Nature is another tool in our toolbox,” says Miller, who, in addition to her medical practice, is associate clinical professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine, University of California, San Francisco. She also believes that park rangers can, in effect, become para-health professionals.

So can whole park districts. Santa Fe, New Mexico, in an effort to fight the high rate of diabetes there, launched its Prescription Trails program, which is partially funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Besides trail time, physicians can refer their patients to a trail guide. In 2010, a pilot program in Portland, Ore., began pairing physicians with park professionals, who will record whether the outdoor prescriptions are fulfilled; the park prescription program will be part of a longitudinal study to measure the effect on health.

By applying what I call the Nature Principle, city planners, developers, architects, educators and many other professionals could improve the nation’s health. But pediatricians have taken the first steps. They play an especially powerful role.

Any parent whose child has ever been sick – which means all of us – has deep respect, even love, for the pediatricians and other pediatric health providers in their lives.

It’s one thing to put our trust for our own lives in a doctor’s hands; it’s quite another thing when the lives at stake are our children’s. The gift pediatricians give us is much more than their technical knowledge. They give us their kindness and wisdom. They calm our fears. By prescribing time in the natural world, pediatricians and pediatric nurse practitioners can improve children’s physical and psychological health, their ability to learn, their capacity for wonder – their ability to feel fully alive in a very real world – for generations to come.

Other resources:

C&NN’s “Grow Outside!”: Tools and Resources for Pediatric Health Professionals

Video: Pediatrician Lewis First from Vermont Children’s Hospital at Fletcher Allen talks about the importance of getting your child outside each day to experience nature.

Doctor’s Orders: Get Outside: Washington Post

_____________________________

Richard Louv is Chairman Emeritus of The Children and Nature Network and the author of “The Nature Principle” and “Last Child in the Woods.” This column, distributed by Citiwire.net, is adapted from “The Nature Principle” and his plenary keynote address to the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference.

This column was originally published by Citiwire.net. Citiwire columns are not copyrighted and may be reproduced in print or electronically; please show authorship, credit Citiwire.net and send an electronic copy of usage to webmaster@citiwire.net. Also, see Citiscope, an online magazine covering breakthroughs, trends, and innovations from cities around the globe.

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  1. Scott Feille says:

    Thanks for all of your work! I will definitely share the prescription above when I present to the Dallas Area Coalition to Prevent Childhood Obesity later this month. Texas has developed a state strategic plan for children in nature that I will be presenting to this group as part of our regional North Texas Children in Nature coalition. The prescription is just the hook I’m looking for and the programs mentioned in this piece will provide some concrete examples of what collaboration could look like in our neck of the woods. Thanks!

  2. I love this prescription and have shared it in Australia. We live in such a beautiful country but sadly this prescription is often needed to remind people how important it is to get outside and connect with nature. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  3. Sue Sturges says:

    Family and friends,
    Deja vu….did someone you know just say this a few days ago? Take this trip with me….Find a shady tree (oak), lay in the cool grass (providing there are no fireants…little devils), gaze up at the sky, through the branches, imagine lions and tigers and bears (oh my) in the building cumulus clouds, watch the dappled sunshine dancing on the leaves and caressing your skin, smell the earth and the grasses around you, listen to the wind and the chirping birds, look for the early moon rise…when you see it sing “I see the moon and the moon sees me….”, tell your grandson, now lying there beside you, that the moon is still there in that big sky, even though he can’t see it for the trees…even though he asked me “wheredit go gama” a hundred times……..You ARE my SUNSHINE!!! xoxo

    It is inside of me, as it is my children and now my grandson Landon. Love those around you! Remember to LIVE your LIFE every day, take some time- BIOLOGY is not something you learned in school, it is what you learn in life and your appreciation for it.

    Thank you, Richard, for your commitment to improving the lives of our children and adults alike. It has been almost 3 years since our meeting in Little Rock, but you continue to make life better for so many of us!

    SS~

  4. Daniel J Foley Jr says:

    Mmm, Love me some Vitamin N. It would be supreme if our educators, city planners, businessmen, and politicians took into account the nation’s (and the world’s) deficiency in Vitamin N. I’m happy to hear of this “Prescription Trails Program”.

    There is no doubt in my mind that children and adults would experience all the wonderful benefits you’ve describe from more time in Nature.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. pema grey says:

    this is a message we don’t hear nearly enough! i heard about your books this morning on a radio program and i can’t wait to get them :-) sometimes the answer is right there under our noses… we’re all too busy living our hurried, worried lives and what we didn’t realize is that we need to get back to basics.. to connect with nature. it is, after all, where we came from :-)

  6. [...] I can’t reiterate enough how much better Camp Granola is when we’re getting our “N” and how miserable we are when we don’t — THE “VITAMIN N” PRESCRIPTION – Some Health Professionals Now Recommending Nature Time for Chil… [...]

  7. Vicky Hoover says:

    I hope to feature Vitamin N in a story about the Children and Nature Network in our next Sierra Club wilderness newsletter. As we seek a new generation of wilderness advocates, we need to make sure they experience Nature from a very young age.
    Vicky Hoover

  8. [...] from the complexity of our modern lives. It’s a great place to recharge your batteries and Vitamin N as Rich Louv would [...]

  9. Elsa Kleppe says:

    Outstanding quest there. What occurred after? Good luck!

  10. Highly energetic blog, I loved that bit. Will there be a part 2?

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