A network of doctors in Washington DC have begun officially prescribing their patients an ancient form of preventative medicine: exercise. Thanks to a database of city parks and recreational services, doctors can link a patient’s home or business address with nearby opportunities for exercise. “With the help of the National Park Service, the DC Department of Parks and Recreation and other groups, [Dr. Robert] Zarr mapped and rated 380 parks for their activities, cleanliness, safety, and accessibility to transit.” When asking patients about their physical exercise habits, Zarr can print out a map of a local park.
What’s the Big Idea?
Prescribing park, as Dr. Zarr puts it, may initially seem like a radical and unnecessary step. The DC doctors’ advice, however, are based on the myriad of medical studies demonstrating the health benefits of physical exercise, so it is conceptually the same as prescribing an antibiotic or painkiller. Plus taking park is free and could reduce the number of other medications patients take. “If patients are losing weight and their blood pressure is going down, then theoretically you should be able to decrease the amount of medicine you prescribe,” Zarr says. “No doctor wants to prescribe medicine is there’s a safer alternative, which is spending time outside.”
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