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Recreation and Park Professionals Play Pivotal Role in Health Initiatives

Posted By Marisa Tomasic, Ph.D., Monday, January 30, 2017

January 23, 2017

Marisa Tomasic, Ph.D.


The benefits of nature continue to gain recognition among health care providers. A good dose of the outdoors are finding their way into the prescriptions for a variety of medical conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, weight issues, fatigue, diabetes, and cancer. Healing from surgery has also shown to be enhanced by engaging with the outdoors (FoodTrients Recipe for Aging Beautifully).


Nature therapy, also referred to as “ecotherapy” and “green therapy,” has been shown to yield significant benefits in the areas of mental and emotional health as well.  Various measurements of stress, including pulse rate, blood pressure readings, and stress hormone levels, have been found to move in positive directions in studies of the health benefits of the outdoors. Stress, anxiety, and depression are known to improve when outdoor activity is incorporated into treatment plans. The exposure to sunlight that outdoor activity brings has long been recognized as a healing force for depression, with the sleep- and energy-enhancing properties of natural light assisting in elevating mood and feelings of well-being. (FoodTrients Recipe for Aging Beautifully) Exercise, frequently thought of as one of nature’s antidepressants, appears to produce more robust health benefits when conducted in the outdoors!


This exciting wave of research underscores the value of our state’s parks in promoting mental health and wellness.  Recreation and park professionals have a unique role to play in these initiatives as people take to the great outdoors to have fun, de-stress, and enhance their physical and mental wellness. Penn State University’s School of Health and Human Development suggests that park and recreation professionals have gained greater recognition in recent years as key players in health and wellness partnerships.

With this in mind, there are a variety of ways for park and recreation professionals to engage in mental health promotion. Activities to consider as participants in mental health initiatives throughout the state’s park and recreation departments include:

  • Educating communities about the health-promoting aspects of nature and the outdoors

  • Organizing walks, hikes, and fun-runs for children and adults

  • Inviting yoga and exercise studios to periodically move their classes outdoors

  • Conducting park and nature retreats for residents of urban areas

  • Leading older adults in walks and exercise classes in the park

  • Developing after school park activities which foster appreciation of nature

  • Planning “art in the park” exhibits and classes

  • Offering geocaching activities and competitions for all age level

  • Partnering with physicians who offer “nature prescriptions” to their patients

  • Teaming up with corporate wellness programs and incorporating outdoor components

  • Participating in Health Impact Studies when possible

  • Encouraging park and recreation involvement via robust social media presence

  • Engaging with psychologists and other mental health professionals to offer stress management classes in the park and to consult on an ongoing basis

The benefits of nature therapy are vast. Hopefully, your department can embrace this practice and find ways to spread it with the community.





Meet the Author

 Marisa McMillian Tomasic, Ph.D., was born and raised in Mount Airy, North  Carolina, and is currently a psychologist and freelance writer in Pittsburgh,  Pennsylvania.  She is the mother of two and loves the beach, the Carolina  Tar Heels, and spending time with  family.  


If you are interested in being a guest author for the Wellness Blog, please contact Diquan at or 919-832-5868

Tags:  ncrpa wellness  Wellness 

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