The Vermont Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports has again teamed up with health care providers throughout the state and the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation to help Vermonters access and reap the tremendous benefits of physical activity in the great outdoors.
The Parks Prescription Program (Parks Rx), part of the Council’s continuing endorsement of Exercise is Medicine, encourages physicians to prescribe fresh air and sunshine along with activities including swimming, hiking, and paddling in Vermont state parks. The physicians give their patients free passes covering park entry fees and engage them in conversations about the benefits of outdoor exercise.
“It’s a nice thing to be able to give, and in giving it we can talk about being active,” Harriot Shea, M.D., a pediatrician with the Central Vermont Medical Center said. “At least they’re away from a screen and will be active. Families are tremendously appreciative of it. They really do use them.”
Park entry fees in 2019 were $4 for adults and $2 per child ages 4-13, which can add up over the 10-week school vacation.
The council launched Parks Rx in 2015, and demand continues to be strong. Dr. Shea’s practice is just one of more than 100 throughout the state that distributed more than 11,000 Parks Rx during summer 2019.
“[The parks prescriptions have] become more popular,” Shea said. “To give something free for something fun, it’s a win-win.”
Evidence shows that being in nature can lift your spirits, and the Vermont Department of Health recommends that adults should participate in 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity daily for optimal health.
“Good things happen to our physical and emotional health when we spend time playing, relaxing and rejuvenating outdoors. Who better to remind us of this than our personal health care professional,” Director of State Parks and member of the Governor’s Council Craig Whipple said. “Having your doctor deliver the message adds a lot of power and we have the added bonus of a free state park visit. It’s the combination of the message and the park pass that we reminds a few more people about the value of playing outdoors.”
A survey seeking feedback on the program was sent to those who received the Parks Rx, and the response was overwhelmingly positive.
“I think this program is so beneficial to large families like mine!” one survey respondent wrote. “It allows us to get out and enjoy Vermont parks without any financial worry.”
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The Governor’s Council is a physical activity promotion and advocacy group comprised of approximately 20 volunteers, appointed by the Governor and representing a broad spectrum of Vermonters, whose mission is to promote health and wellness through physical activity for all people living in Vermont at all fitness and ability levels.