Nature the best medicine for Geelong region: innovative trial to prescribe parks for better health

News

The Geelong region will be the site for an innovative new health program which encourages people to head to the park for their health and wellbeing.

On Monday 19 September, Geelong’s Active in Parks program was launched by Hon Nick Wakeling MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Health. The program will see health professionals including doctors, maternal health nurses, and youth workers prescribing park visits to improve the health and wellbeing of their patients and clients. The program will also offer a range of free or low cost activities for the general community, which will be detailed on the program’s website www.activeinparks.org 

The program’s architect, Dr Rob Grenfell, says the program is founded on the growing body of evidence that shows spending time in nature is vital for people’s health and wellbeing. 

“We’ve spent the last hundred years disconnecting from the natural environment, and the result is a steady increase in lifestyle diseases and increasing social disconnection.” 

“As both a general practitioner and a public health physician, I believe there is enormous potential for the natural environment to improve people’s health. There’s a tremendous opportunity for the health sector to use nature as part of a patient’s medical treatment – it’s much cheaper to prescribe a walk in the park than to build a new hospital,” Dr Grenfell said. 

“This is an innovative program to help people from the Geelong region break down the barriers to getting out into our magnificent parklands.”

Dr Grenfell says the launch of the new program is timely, with new data showing around six out of ten Australian adults do not meet the recommended guidelines for physical activity .

“Regular physical activity is essential for good health. Being physically inactive increases the risk of a number of chronic health conditions such as heart disease, stroke and vascular disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and arthritis.” 

“For many of us, the best prescription we can have is to take a step into a natural space like a park or the beach. This will not only benefit individual health, but potentially reduce the enormous cost of treating preventable diseases.”

Dr Grenfell said the Active in Parks program also aimed to improve mental health and develop stronger communities. 

“There’s very strong evidence that shows being in a natural space like a park has significant benefits for mental health and wellbeing.  A park or the beach is a perfect place for reflection, and really gives us the opportunity to stop and take a break from the many demands of our increasingly busy lifestyles,” he said.

CEO of G21, Elaine Carbines said she was delighted that the Geelong region has been chosen for this innovative trial. 

“The evidence shows a visit to the park is good for the body and the soul, and Geelong has a fantastic network of parks, trails, beaches and rivers.”

Dr Grenfell said the program is not a ‘bootcamp’, but suitable for people of all ages and abilities. 

“We’re challenging Geelong to get active this Spring – and hit Nature’s gym. There will be a wide range of activities suitable for people of all ages and abilities. We all know the saying an apple a day keeps the doctor away – we hope to change that to ‘a park a day keeps the doctor away’.”

Medibank Community Fund is the major sponsor of Geelong’s active in Parks program. George Savvides, Managing Director of Medibank, said the sponsorship was a perfect fit for the Medibank Community Fund which aims to get people living longer in better health through exercise and healthy eating initiatives.

“By involving general practitioners, who play an important role in their local communities, and reaching-out through established community networks and leaders, this program has all the ingredients that are needed for generating significant changes in community health outcomes for the Geelong region,” he said.

General Practitioners Association of Geelong’s Medical Advisor Dr Jane Opie, said GPAG were excited by the potential of the program to use nature as the setting to enhance physical and emotional wellbeing.
 “Our hope would be for development of a sustainable range of activities across the region,” Dr Opie said.

Geelong’s Active in Parks is a joint pilot program of Parks Victoria, People & Parks Foundation and G21 - Geelong Regional Alliance. The program is supported by the Geelong region’s five municipalities, City of Greater Geelong, Colac Otway Shire, Borough of Queenscliffe, Surf Coast Shire and Golden Plains Shire.

Geelong’s Active in Parks Principal Partners include Parks Victoria, People and Parks Foundation, G21 - Geelong Regional Alliance, the Department of Health and the Department of Planning and Community Development.

Supporting partners include the General Practitioners Association of Geelong (GPAG), Deakin University, Barwon Health, Diversitat, Pathways, Headspace, Bellarine Community Health, Leisure Networks and the Heart Foundation.

For more information and details of activities visit www.activeinparks.org