The Nature Prescription

I ran across an interesting article recently about a new kind of prescription that some doctors are issuing. According to the article, rather than prescribing drugs, the doctors are prescribing . . . nature. In order to treat conditions like stress, asthma, obesity, and anxiety, doctors are instructing patients to get off their duffs, get out of their houses, and enjoy hiking, walking, or other activities in specific parks and green spaces. The “nature prescription” is apparently particularly popular with pediatricians who are concerned about the spike in childhood anxiety, inactivity, and increasing obesity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Studies show that time spent in nature is effective in reducing stress and addressing obesity. Neither of those results should be surprising; parks are quiet, less crowded, and far away from stress inducers like rude people, news broadcasts, and angry social media posts. And while you can’t be out in nature without getting at least some exercise, you also aren’t near the refrigerator, the snack drawer, or the jug of sugary soda that might otherwise tempt you.

Doctors who are using the nature prescription approach try to be specific with their patients. They identify a park or green space near the patient, and then discuss how often the patient should go to the park and the activities they should follow for a specific period of time–say, walking briskly for 30 minutes every other day. The doctors report that a specific instruction on what to do, and for how long, is more likely to be followed by the patient than a general admonition that the patient “get more exercise.”

There are obvious challenges with “nature prescriptions”–parks to hike in are a lot easier to find in Maine than in Manhattan, for example–but I think the notion of “nature prescriptions” is a great initiative. We need to get away from the idea that every condition can be addressed with a pill, and encourage people to be more active and to exercise more control over their health and their mindsets. I’ve been following my own “nature prescription” for years, and my experience with morning walks is that fresh air, exercise, and some quiet time to think can work wonders.

Back To Coat-And-Gloves Weather

Overnight the temperature plummeted, and it was in the 30s when Penny and I ventured out this morning for our walk.  For the first time since early April, the barn coat and gloves were hauled out of the closet and donned against the brisk morning air.

Much as I love summer, I also love the changing seasons.  As the temperatures slide from the Ss (60s/70s) to the Fs (40s/50s) to the Ts (20s/30s), the morning walk experience also changes in noticeable ways.  Your breath comes out in visible puffs.  Ghostly white clouds of water vapor billow from the storm water grates and hang in the sharp air.  The light of the crescent moon shines on grass covered with a thin reflective layer of frost, and the Hunter, the Big Dipper, and their fellow stars seem brighter and clearer in the black sky.  The layer of frost makes you walk with newfound care as you cross the slippery wooden plank walkway around the edge of the wispy steam-covered pond.

By the end of the walk your nose is cold, your cheeks are ruddy, and you are wide awake.  The feelings are all very familiar, and very comforting.  It’s grand to be alive on such a morning!

Slip And Fall

We’ve reached the time of year where the ancient weather gods can’t seem to make up their minds.  It is warm one day and freezing the next.  Snow melts, but before the water evaporates it freezes again, leaving sidewalks, roads, and driveways coated with a thin sheen of ice.

It makes this the most treacherous time of year for the morning walker.  In the dim, pre-dawn hours, it is virtually impossible to distinguish a cleared asphalt walking path, where the confident walker can move with long, careless stride, from a frozen surface that even a sure-footed polar bear would hesitate to cross.  As a result, the careful walker proceeds head down, with penguin gait, scanning the immediate path ahead for patches of snow that might provide better traction and making split-second judgments about whether to risk a tentative step out onto a questionable surface.

Because — make no mistake — it is that first step that is crucial.  If you’ve ever slipped on ice, you know the feeling.  You take the step, your foot slides immediately and unpredictably, and suddenly you are grasping the air, adrenalin surging, arms waving like a person trying to fend off a bee attack, as you try to regain your balance.  (And try doing so when, in one hand, you have a leash attached to a zig-zagging dog.)  You desperately hope to avoid the horrible realization that you have failed, and you are going down.  Because when you fall, whether you land on your keister or your side, the physical impact is less significant than the fact that you feel and look like a complete idiot.

Yes, it is an exciting time of year for morning walks.

Frost On The Boardwalk

This morning’s walk was frigid indeed, as the temperature has dipped down close to the single digits.  Still, even as a walker seeks to keep warm, it is impossible not to appreciate the brittle beauty of a quiet countryside sheathed in frost and glittering under the stars.

The Yantis Loop pond is largely iced over.  A small group of ducks huddled close together in one of the few remaining patches of open water, totally surrounded by ice.  The boardwalk around the pond is covered in a thick blanket of ice crystals that sparkled under the crescent moon and the dim light of a nearby street lamp.  As I walked on, the wooden slats creaked loudly in the cold air.

The only thing missing from the scene was snow.  We’ve had a few flurries so far this year, but nothing has stuck.  Nor is any snow in the immediate forecast.  Instead, tomorrow we are to receive our first allotment of sleet and freezing rain, which are the twin banes of the central Ohio winter.

Shooting Stars

Today was crisp and exceptionally clear for my 5 a.m. walk.  On mornings like today, with the sun still well below the eastern horizon, the constellations stand out, cold and sparkling and distant, and you can almost count the individual stars. New Albany is located at the far northeast corner of Franklin County, and the night skies don’t suffer from too much light pollution from Columbus.

On some days you may glimpse a shooting star.  Today was one of those days.  Your eye catches a quick movement and you turn your head just in time to see a point of light flashing by, impossibly fast against the unmoving backdrop of stars, only to flare into nothingness.

It is a stroke of good fortune to see a shooting star first thing in the morning.  The day has only just begun, and already it is a special day.

The Morning Walk

I had a bit of insomnia this morning, and I got up earlier than usual. As is my custom — and Kish correctly identifies me as a creature of habit — I got Penny leashed up and took my morning walk around the Yantis Loop. As Kish knows, I always go the same direction, and when Penny joins me she helps to add to the routine. In the first part of the walk we need to make sure that she answers the call of nature, and thereafter she must challenge my authority by stopping to sniff at every fence post. It takes a few tugs on the leash to teach her that on this morning, too, I mean business. By the mid-point of the walk, after we pass the pond and are approaching the icy patch at the turn that is always there during the winter, we are moving at a good clip, with Penny in the lead, head up and alert. When I get back home after my brush with exercise and the cold, the coffee tastes hot and good.

I like these walks because they get me up and going in the morning. I can listen to my Ipod as I walk along, and the uninterrupted time allows my mind to roam. Sometimes I think about work, sometimes about life, sometimes about the song I’m hearing, and sometimes about not much of anything at all. It is a good way to start the day.