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The National Park Service Is Your New HMO

America’s grandest public lands have a big role to play in our health

If time outside is good medicine, then the national parks, which see some 330 million visitors each year, might just be the country’s most important health care provider.

In 2011, the National Park Service launched a program called Healthy Parks Healthy People, which sought to promote the idea that the parks are a national wellness and fitness resource. Now it’s looking to double down on some of the program’s most promising practices, including investments in community gardens and healthy food programs, plus encouragement of nature prescriptions. As part of the initiative, the NPS is having individual parks host physicians, medical students, and researcher so that staff can collaborate with them to develop health-focused projects and events.

The effort comes on the heels of National Park Rx Day, an annual event launched in 2016 to promote the idea that getting outside is good for us. Last year’s edition saw events in 69 parks in 34 states and included hikes with doctors, al fresco yoga classes, and workshops on plant-based nutrition.

“We’re seeing park prescriptions catching on,” says Diana Allen, chief of the Healthy Parks Healthy People program. “But there are a lot more opportunities to engage with doctors and other people from the health sector.”

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