My Itchy Travel Feet | The Baby Boomer's Guide To Travel

Visit a National Park and Call Me When You Get Back

2011/04/22by Donna Hull

donna-alan-hull-glacier-national-park-st-mary-lake

Relaxing by St. Mary Lake in Glacier National Park is a natural stress reliever

Happy Earth Day. To celebrate, rather than telling our baby boomer readers about the importance of following sustainable travel practices to improve the health of our planet, I’m going to turn it around. Did you know that outdoor travel improves your health? Nature prescriptions, ecotherapy, green exercise — these are terms boomers will be hearing from a growing health movement that focuses on how outside activities in a natural environment benefit our health, both mentally and physically. And of course we can’t do that without a healthy planet.

You may hear this on your next boomer visit to the doctor: “Visit a National Park, then come back in for a re-check upon your return.” The advice might even be written on a prescription pad. It could happen. Why? The National Park Service initiative, Healthy Parks Healthy People US, hopes to increase awareness about how open spaces and natural places promote the health and well-being of all species, which means you, me, our animal friends – even the planet, itself. The human health component of the program emphasizes nutrition, physical activity and mental health.

What does that mean for baby boomers?

On your next visit to a national park, you might find healthier food choices. And the cost of that park prescription from your doctor might very well be covered by your health insurance carrier. According to a New York Times article by Jane Brody, SeeChange Health in California is already offering a pilot program to reimburse members for visits to California state parks. And in New Mexico, local physicians hand out trail guides to their patients as part of the Prescription Trails in New Mexico program.

But don’t think that Americans invented this concept. We have our friends from down under to thank. Australia is the birthplace of Healthy Parks Healthy People. And England also participates in the health and natural environment movement.

Do you need more convincing?

In another New York Times article, I learned that exposure to plants and parks will improve my immune system. At the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaigne, researches are studying the topic at the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory. And The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health has published an abstract from a scientific study about the effect of natural places on health.

The fact that being outdoors offers positive effects to our baby boomer health should come as no surprise to us. It’s common sense. And you don’t have to plan a baby boomer trip to a national park or receive a parks prescription from your doctor to reap the benefits — all you have to do is step outside. But it’s sure more fun when a national park is involved.

Over on the My Itchy Travel Feet page on Facebook, we’re asking the question, If your doctor prescribed a visit to a national park as part of your health care, where do you think he would send you? Be sure to visit to add your response. Don’t forget to click the Like button while you’re there.

So what do you think about the idea of the Healthy Parks Healthy People program? Post a comment to share your thoughts.



A boomer travel and lifestyle authority who is exploring the world one activity at a time. Besides writing and publishing My Itchy Travel Feet, she also writes about boomer travel for My Well-Being Powered by Humana, Make It Missoula and is the author of My Itchy Travel Feet: Breathtaking Adventure Vacation Ideas.

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

Sandy2118 April 23, 2011 at 2:50 am

I totally get this. We are fortunate to live near the National Seashore. Walks by the ocean are restorative, no doubt about it.

Reply

Donna Hull
Twitter:
April 23, 2011 at 1:19 pm

I agree, Sandy. There’s something about walking by the ocean,
breathing in the salt air that’s certainly good for my body.

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Sheryl April 23, 2011 at 11:32 am

Great post, Donna. Thanks for all the useful information. And this is one prescription that is WAY overdue. I’m so happy to see that health professionals are touting the value of being out in nature and moving as a way to deal with stress and other things that can make us ill. It’s so soothing to be in the fresh air and experience sight and smells. And to think that I might actually be able to find healthy choices when searching for something to eat – another big plus.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
April 23, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Thanks for commenting, Sheryl. I agree about the soothing qualities of
nature. The link to the British study indicated it was a viable
alternative to anti-depressant drugs.

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Jane Boursaw
Twitter:
April 23, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Ok, I’m not sure how I’ve gotten this far without hearing the term “ecotherapy,” but I absolutely love it. Just getting outdoors every day is such a boost for me, it makes sense that outdoor-themed travel would have that effect, too. Hopefully, I’ll make my way to a national park this year and can report back on my own version of Healthy Parks Healthy People. And I don’t have to go far either, since Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is just a hop, skip and a jump from my house.

Reply

Donna Hull
Twitter:
April 23, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Jane, Sleeping Bear Dunes is high on our to visit list. And don’t
forget state parks have the same health effect :-)

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Kris
Twitter:
April 23, 2011 at 11:40 pm

I was recently at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and LOVED the fact that they are offering water for refilling bottles at the park. I snapped a picture (see if this works): http://www.facebook.com/media/set/fbx/?set=a.191082310923076.45519.181912421840065#!/photo.php?fbid=202303093134331&set=a.191082310923076.45519.181912421840065&type=1&theater

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
April 23, 2011 at 11:43 pm

We missed Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on our last trip to Hawaii.
Hope to get back there one day.

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Susan April 25, 2011 at 1:31 am

I’m not surprised to read that visiting national parks has health benefits. For centuries, doctos have encouraged patients to rest by the sea or enjoy other types of scenery.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
April 25, 2011 at 1:51 am

So true, Susan. Sometimes, it helps to return back to the health basics.

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Ruthpennebaker April 25, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Thanks for posting this, Donna. I had no idea these improvements were going on.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
April 25, 2011 at 8:04 pm

Let’s home these improvements happen sooner rather than later. I’m not sure how long it will take to introduce the healthy food aspect into the national park system. They will be doing a study first. Ugh.

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Mark H April 25, 2011 at 11:37 pm

I have just spent ttwo days travelling through four national parks in southern NSW. While the walking and enivronment is uplifting and the sceneery beautiful, the food that they serve is very poor (and overpriced). I hope that the healthy food initiative arrives down here too (though I won’t hold my breath).

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
April 25, 2011 at 11:43 pm

Mark, since the healthy parks healthy people initiative originated in Australia, maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised. So far, I think much of this is in the talking stages, unfortunately.

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Mark H April 26, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Is that right? I’ve not heard about it down here in Australia. We do an excellent job with national parks in general with enthusiastic staff and trails and areas that continue to improve in signage and trail conditions. But the cafes and food areas in the popular parks still leaves a lot to be desired…

Donna Hull
Twitter:
April 25, 2011 at 11:57 pm

You and me both, Kris.

Reply

meredith April 26, 2011 at 2:44 pm

I love visiting the national parks and have been to many in Utah, various in California, and of course the Grand Canyon. I would love to see others. I knew they were doing improvements in Yosemite, and it makes sense that all these amazing places would need ongoing care with people going in and out.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
April 26, 2011 at 8:15 pm

The West does have some stupendous national parks. It is good to know that all of the parks will be getting more attention.

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Terry at Overnight New York April 27, 2011 at 10:36 pm

As an urban enthusiast I love the fact that cities can have national parks, too. San Francisco’s Presido National Park is, in its quiet way, spectacular — bay views! tall trees! the Vertigo connection! — and a respite from the city’s hustle bustle. It may not be Half Dome, but you can still hike — or walk — to your heart’s content.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
April 28, 2011 at 12:06 am

I agree Terry. And national parks that are located in urban areas may be the
most important of all. They give citizens who might not have a chance to
experience wilder places a taste of the great outdoors.

Reply

Casey April 28, 2011 at 2:33 am

Now if only I could get my doctor to pay for a cross-country visit to all our national parks… a girl can dream.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
April 28, 2011 at 2:42 am

We hear ya, Casey. Maybe it could be a National Park foodie road trip.

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Donna Hull
Twitter:
April 26, 2011 at 10:42 pm

Maybe the food change is yet to come.

Reply

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