Health Benefits of Nature

Project Lead

  • Sherri Russell
  • Kathi Moore
  • Lorisa Smith
  • Maria Anderson

Project Partners

  • The Missouri Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Missouri State Parks
  • Park RX America
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Project Summary

As part of MDC’s One Health initiative, we are happy to bring you a project we have been working on which focuses on the health benefits of being out in nature. Inspired by the Park Rx movement, we hope that through sharing information on this topic we can better support the health of our citizens and facilitate a connection with nature.

Goal: The Missouri Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics is partnering with the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), Missouri State Parks, and Park RX America to prescribe the health benefits of nature to their patients and share the positive impacts of conservation-related activities and programs offered in the state.

Program Details:
Through this partnership, pediatric providers will learn how to prescribe nature to families and children as a way to manage and treat health issues by spending time outdoors and in nature. Research shows that just spending time in nature can improve an individual’s mental and physical wellbeing. However, we also understand the value the outdoors provides to those who participate in conservation activities such as hunting and fishing, especially if this is done in a social setting with friends and family. The memories created last a lifetime.
In order to achieve maximum success, the partnership hopes to train a small group of 30 physicians on the nexus of nature and human health. This will be accomplished through the accredited Continuing Medical Education (CME) course offered by Park RX America. The course objectives include describing the current state of physical and mental health, summarizing the evidence for nature and human health, and demonstrating how to incorporate nature-based interventions into daily practice. In addition, the physicians, will establish relationships with the MDC nature center managers to become familiar with the programs, services, and conservation areas available within their local region. The desire is to ensure the physicians understand and appreciate the opportunities available themselves, so they are more likely to prescribe nature, connecting their patients to these areas for improved health, from a place of personal experience.
The first cohort of physicians has interested individuals from Kansas City, St. Louis, Ozark, Hannibal, Kirksville, Poplar Bluff, Columbia, and Jefferson City. The physicians will begin the nature training program in late May and continue through the end of 2021. To encourage continued participation, a small incentive program will be established based on defined criteria such as the number of prescriptions filled. Physicians who meet the criteria will be entered into a raffle for a $100 gift card to an outdoor retailer. A total of 10 gift cards will be awarded.

Project Updates

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Project Datasets

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Project Papers & Presentations

How nature nurtures: Amygdala activity decreases as the result of a one-hour walk in nature

This study suggests that going for a walk in nature can have health promoting effects on stress-related brain regions, and consequently, it may act as a preventive measure against mental strain and potentially disease. Living in cities is associated with increased mental health risks. This study is causal in design and is an intervention study that investigates changes in the brain. This is the first study that we know to demonstrate the causal effects of acute exposure to natural vs.

Closing the Achievement Gap: Using the Environment as an Integrating Context for Learning. Results of a Nationwide Study

This report relates the story of the schools, teachers, and students involved in implementing the framework known as the Environment as an Integrating Context (EIC). The results of a nationwide study, a description of the major concepts and assumptions underlaying EIC, an exploration of the range of successful EIC programs across the United States, and an analysis of the implications of EIC-based education for student learning and instruction are presented.

Do Experiences With Nature Promote Learning? Converging Evidence of a Cause-and-Effect Relationship

Do experiences with nature – from wilderness backpacking to plants in a preschool,
to a wetland lesson on frogs—promote learning? Until recently, claims outstripped
evidence on this question. But the field has matured, not only substantiating
previously unwarranted claims but deepening our understanding of the cause-and-effect
relationship between nature and learning. Hundreds of studies now bear on this
question, and converging evidence strongly suggests that experiences of nature

Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective

A growing body of empirical evidence is revealing the value of nature experience for mental health. With rapid
urbanization and declines in human contact with nature globally, crucial decisions must be made about how to
preserve and enhance opportunities for nature experience. Here, we first provide points of consensus across the
natural, social, and health sciences on the impacts of nature experience on cognitive functioning, emotional
well-being, and other dimensions of mental health. We then show how ecosystem service assessments can be

What are the Benefits of Interactive with Nature?

There is mounting empirical evidence that interacting with nature delivers measurable benefits to people. Reviews of this topic have generally focused on a specific type of benefit, been limited to a single discipline, or covered the benefits delivered from a particular type of interaction. Here we construct novel typologies of the settings, interactions and potential benefits of people-nature experiences, and use these to organise an assessment of the benefits of interacting with nature.

An expanded One Health model: Integrating social science and One Health to inform study of the human-animal interface

Zoonotic disease emergence is not a purely biological process mediated only by ecologic factors; opportunities for transmission of zoonoses from animals to humans also depend on how people interact with animals. This paper proposes an expanded “One Health” conceptual model for human-animal exposure that accounts for social as well as epidemiologic factors.

Impact of climate change on biodiversity and associated key ecosystem services in Africa: a systematic review

Biodiversity and biodiversity-based ecosystems services are intrinsically dependent on the climate. As biodiversity underlies all goods and services provided by ecosystems that are crucial for human survival and well-being, this paper synthesizes and discusses observed and anticipated impacts of climate change on biodiversity and biodiversity-based ecosystem service provision and livelihoods, and what strategies might be employed to decrease current and future risks on the well-being of human in Africa.

Biodiversity, the Human Microbiome and Mental Health: Moving toward a New Clinical Ecology for the 21st Century?

Advances in research concerning the brain-related influences of the microbiome have been paradigm shifting, although at an early stage, clinical research involving beneficial microbes lends credence to the notion that the microbiome may be an important target in supporting mental health (defined here along the continuum between quality of life and the criteria for specific disorders).


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