‘Park Rx’ adds a treatment modality for primary care

‘Park Rx’ adds a treatment modality for primary care

By Dennis Archambault

Earlier this spring, a news article announced the adoption of “Park Rx” by the Belle Isle Conservancy. Interestingly, it happened during the peak of the pandemic when many people were forced to work from home and needed to get out of their house and stretch. So, neighborhoods and parks were filled with parents with babies, kids, young adults, elders moving. Sometimes, crises breed opportunities and the opportunity here is to maintain the momentum of something as natural as getting out and moving.

The idea behind Park Rx has been around awhile. It’s like the “Fresh Rx” or “Prescription for Health” program. Primary care providers who identify patients with more sedentary lifestyles and have disease states that could be improved through exercise simply ask them what activities they do or would like to do. Someone might say, “oh, I take a walk at lunch time.” Another person might say, “I garden.” To the goal-oriented fitness person that may be laughable. But to Park Rx, those are opportunity areas.

What if the patient set a goal of not just walking occasionally during lunch time, but walking during every lunch time? What if the patient started bringing a piece of fruit that they like each time – then maybe trying an unfamiliar fruit? What if the gardener thought about the many ways of stretching and muscle-strengthening that naturally occurs in gardening – and then does it intentionally, a little more, a little longer? (National Gardening Exercise Day, June 6, was created with this in mind.)

Park Rx offers people who don’t exercise regularly, especially lower income people who don’t have access to gyms and home fitness equipment, a commonsense approach to incorporating aerobic fitness into their normal life.

The approach is well-thought out, with advisories for providers and for patients. And it is evidence based. It’s remarkable how many disease states can be positively affected by intentional exercise:

  • Reduced obesity rates. Increasing outdoor play in preschoolers (60 minutes-plus) has been associated with reduced the body mass index. Interestingly, this research showed stronger results among low-income children who were generally less active at home and living in unsafe neighborhoods. Also, exercising in natural environments has greater physical and mental health benefits than exercising indoors.
  • Reduced diabetes. Expanding and enhancing greenspace is a condition associated with healthy communities. Research correlates this with a lower prevalence of diabetes, specifically reduced odds of having type 2 diabetes.
  • Reduced hypertension. An interesting study correlates decreased blood pressure walking in a forested area. That’s certainly a challenge for urban areas like Detroit – but there’s always Belle Isle and Rouge Park.
  • Other studies have correlated outdoor exercise with improved sleep, immunity, and birth outcomes.

There are 308 parks in the City of Detroit, 40 of which have undergone significant renovation in the past year, and many are in various conditions. Sometimes, the prescription may be neighborhood walking, cycling, even jogging. Safety may be a concern, and the inclement weather that comes in winter is also an issue.

Physicians at Authority Health have begun discussing implementing Park Rx into the care of patients. That, along with Fresh Rx, offer physicians two natural therapy options for addressing chronic disease and improving the well-being of our community.

Dennis Archambault is vice president of Public Affairs for Authority Health.