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Visit a National Park and Call Me When You Get Back

Donna and Alan Hull at St. Marys Lake in Glacier National Park

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? Join the conversation at the My Itchy Travel Feet page on Facebook or send us an email with your comments or questions.

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