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.

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Project Papers & Presentations

Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder

Last Child in the Woods is the first book to bring together a new and growing body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults. More than just raising an alarm, Louv offers practical solutions and simple ways to heal the broken bond—and many are right in our own backyard.

EcoHealth and One Health: A theory-focused review in response to calls for convergence

EcoHealth and One Health are two major approaches broadly aimed at understanding the links between human, animal, and environment health. We aimed to gain a more in-depth understanding of the ontological, epistemological and methodological underpinnings of EcoHealth and One Health in order to identify areas of difference and overlap, and consider the extent to which closer convergence between the two may be possible.


Numerous emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) have arisen from or been identified in wildlife, with health implications for both humans and wildlife. Here, we focus on a little-studied and seldom discussed concern: how real and perceived risks of wildlife-associated diseases for human and companion animal health might erode public support for wildlife conservation.


In order to explore the effect of forest bathing on human immune function, we investigated natural killer (NK) activity; the number of NK cells, and perforin, granzymes and granulysin-expression in peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) during a visit to forest fields. Twelve healthy male subjects, age 37-55 years, were selected with informed consent from three large companies in Tokyo, Japan. The subjects experienced a three-day/two-night trip in three different forest fields.

Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings

Adults and children are spending more time interacting with media and technology and less time participating in activities in nature. This life-style change clearly has ramifications for our physical well-being, but what impact does this change have on cognition? Higher order cognitive functions including selective attention, problem solving, inhibition, and multi-tasking are all heavily utilized in our modern technology-rich society. Attention Restoration Theory (ART) suggests that exposure to nature can restore prefrontal cortex-mediated executive processes such as these.

The physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing): evidence from field experiments in 24 forests across Japan

This paper reviews previous research on the physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest atmosphere or forest bathing), and presents new results from field experiments conducted in 24 forests across Japan. The term Shinrin-yoku was coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982, and can be defined as making contact with and taking in the atmosphere of the forest. In order to clarify the physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku, we conducted field experiments in 24 forests across Japan.


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