Nature is an ally for our mental health

As of this morning, more than 45,000 health professionals in Quebec are equipped to recommend exposure to nature to their patients thanks to Prescri-Nature, a new program launched in collaboration with the BC Parks Foundation. Along with physical activity, sleep, and diet, exposure to nature is gaining ground as an essential service to developing healthy mental health and improving physical health.

Posted at 11:00 a.m.

Claudel Petrine Desrosier and Cyril Frazau
President of the Quebec Society of Environmental Physicians, member of the Prescri-Nature group and CEO of Nature Quebec*

Over the past two years, we’ve talked about mental health more than ever. For many, containment measures linked to the COVID-19 pandemic have boosted the desire to spend time outdoors, reminding us of the importance of open spaces and the calm that regular contact with nature provides. We cherished the cutting of greenery and water near our homes. Picnics to the park to get some fresh air, to see friends, to breathe a little, have taken an increasing place in our daily lives. So much so that 82% of us consider gardens more important to our mental health than they were before the pandemic.1

It’s been known for a long time: exposure to nature brings benefits to our physical and psychological health. Hundreds of studies, some dating back to the 1980s, support this claim.

Our proximity to natural environments brings a sense of calm, improves our self-esteem, stimulates our social relationships and generates a sense of joy and well-being.2 Contact with the natural environment for 20 minutes is enough to lower the level of cortisol in the blood, known as the stress hormone. Repeat this activity several times a week and it can have a lasting positive effect on our mental health.

Prescri-Nature is a huge step forward. The program allows all health professionals in Quebec to easily access common data about the links between health and nature and use it in an informed manner in their daily practices. It is also a platform for those who want to know more and educate their loved ones about the importance and benefits of green spaces.

But to take advantage of these advantages, you still need access to the local nature! The vision of “yes to trees, but not at the expense of parking,” bolstered by our car-based lifestyle, is still very prevalent.

Our cities still do not provide easy access to green and natural spaces through active travel patterns. Some residents – the elderly, people with reduced mobility, people who are hospitalized or living in long-term care facilities, and those who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods – live in nature-lacked environments with many insurmountable barriers , which constitute a major source of social and health inequality.

Increasingly frequent positions on the preservation of natural environments and green spaces are being issued by the municipal, university and community sectors: the government must respond to the call and assert itself as a leader, with ambitious projects to protect its inhabitants, particularly in the context of climate and health crises and biodiversity loss.

We need ambitious policies in land use planning, integrating protection of existing natural environments and access to parks through green, pleasant and safe frameworks. Nature is a cure to adapt to climate change and enhance the health of the population. It is an essential ally of our mental health and offers its services to us free of charge. In turn, it is our responsibility to take care of it and demand its protection.

* The co-signatories are members of the Prescri-Nature community: DDr Isabelle Bradet, Dr.Dr Johan Elsner, Dr.;Dr Sarah Bergeron, DrDr Caroline Laberge and Emmett Phil Koreans

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