Can Fun Really Be a Prescription for Good Health?

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What if the key to happiness and better health is as simple as stepping out the front door and going outside? What if the secret to a long and fruitful life is checking in with a close friend once a week? While it may sound too good to be true, many people believe getting into nature AND maintaining close relationships can contribute to a sustained overall well-being and an improved quality of life. Should we be looking to carve out focused time for more…. fun?

The answer may be yes! And we might need to carve out time for more connection. And more disconnection. Did you know our daily consumption of social media and screentime averages 144 minutes on average a day? Yikes.

Medical professionals are starting to talk about different types of prescriptions: nature and social connections. What is this “new age” remedy? Well, it is exactly as it sounds… a prescription to get outside more, connect more in relationships, or both!

The purpose is to get to the root of what cultivates true happiness for someone, and that may be revealed through increased time outdoors and strong personal relationships that truly bring joy.

Social Prescriptions

Research supports that healthy interpersonal relationships are “positive predictors of longevity.”  So much so that people who were the most satisfied in their personal relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. In a world that has never been more socially connected, it increasingly feels like real human connection is becoming lost. That’s why social prescriptions are gaining attention.

Social prescriptions range from spending time with a friend or loved one on a consistent basis, to signing up for a group yoga class or Spanish class, or attending a community’s social event. Essentially, it’s time spent in-person with others who have shared interests and beliefs. It’s putting down the phone and getting back to real conversations, because no amount of likes on a photo or retweets can capture the same thrill of belly laughing with a group of friends.

Nature Prescriptions

And then there’s the second kind of prescription; the nature prescription. This kind of remedy comes in the form of nature walks, enjoying local parks, and breathing in fresh air. The phrase “fresh air does the soul good” is nothing new, but in this circumstance, the effects go far beyond the soul.

The BC Parks Foundation’s prescription for nature shows that just two hours of time in nature a week, about 20 minutes a day, significantly increases health and wellbeing. The risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes may also decline, while creativity and memory improves. Even simply being near green areas and parks may have ample positive effects. Mothers who live in green areas tend to have babies at healthier birth rates, and elderly who live near parks may live longer.

At an increasing rate, especially since the pandemic, medical professionals across the country are writing “park prescriptions.” Doctors are encouraging their patients to get outside to improve their mental and physical health with nature walks. They do so by finding a park or green space convenient to the patient and recommending activities to do in the park and for how long.

If a patient doesn’t want to embark on their park prescription alone, there are other options as well. From walking with health care providers on organized community strolls such as Walk with a Doc, to joining nature walk groups, there are many ways to get outside.

Good health includes taking care of our mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing and what better way to improve mental health than to do what you love. Research shows our mental health can have a direct impact on our physical health. Whether you enjoy dancing, walking outside, or simply just being out in nature, making time for things that bring you joy is a great tool to help improve your overall health.

Cassie Montana, RD, LD, HEW Registered Dietitian

When we focus on meaningful interactions with people and the world around us, we may directly impact our health, satisfaction with life, and overall happiness.