In the American Journal of Public Health, University of Maryland School of Public Health researchers explore the notion of prescribing nature-based activity to people with mental illnesses. Ms. Julie Maier and Dr. Shannon Jette, both from the department of kinesiology, focused on exercise prescription abroad in the United Kingdom and Australia and how their models of prescription could be used by the ‘Exercise is Medicine’ initiative in the United States.
Published online in March 2016, Promoting Nature-Based Activity for People With Mental Illness Through the US ‘Exercise Is Medicine’ Initiative, provides a new avenue through which to look at how underserved populations (especially those with mental illnesses) could be served through this joint initiative between the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Medical Association. This research aims to help address the higher rates of chronic health issues experienced by those with mental illness, as well as the particular barriers to physical activity experienced by this population.
“Exercise referral schemes, such as the Exercise is Medicine (EIM) initiative, have the potential to help make a wider range of physical activities accessible to marginalized populations, such as people with mental illness,” Ms. Maier, a kinesiology doctoral student, said. “However, to date EIM has not paid adequate attention to this population. In our paper, we think through some ways that EIM can collaborate with other organizations focused on mental illness or nature-based physical activity, to make this form of physical activity more readily available.”
Ms. Maier and Dr. Jette point out that outdoor activity has been better received by many people with mental illness than prescribed activity in fitness facilities more traditionally focused on appearance, such as gyms.
“Within the health promotion community in the United States, there is growing recognition of the health benefits of being in nature, a local example being the DC Park RX initiative, which is the forefront of a larger national initiative,” Dr. Jette stated. “Our paper contributes to this conversation by bringing attention to the mental health benefits of being in nature and, in line with our social justice agenda, the need to consider issues of access to parks and nature for marginalized populations, such as individuals experiencing mental illness.”
In exploring this literature and suggesting an exercise prescription program in the United States, Ms. Maier and Dr. Jette believe that a partnership between the ‘Exercise Is Medicine’ initiative and outdoor programs such as the National Park Service’s ‘Healthy Parks Healthy People’ program is one avenue to aid these underserved populations. They assert that funding these programs by federal and state governments is necessary, as is more research into the outcomes of such projects to ensure that these interventions are able to serve the people who need them most.