Open Space and Public Health
According to Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, a Professor of West Virginia University School of Medicine, “Outdoor space is where you play.” And play outdoors is not only vital to our overall health, but also a potential “prescription” for curbing diseases, such as diabetes. In June, Dr. Mark chatted with participants of the Blue Ridge Conservation Alliance virtual quarterly meeting about the correlation of open space and public health. In conventional medicine, we are used to treating symptoms of diseases with medications, to simply relieve symptoms. However, that often doesn’t treat the actual cause of the disease. The benefits of outdoor play may include prevention of diseases to begin with – resulting in physical and emotional well-being without the need for medication.
Aligning with Dr. Mark’s philosophy is Park Rx, a hub for park “prescriptions” and knowledge sharing in the practitioner community. The Collaborative started in Washington DC and has now become a nationwide movement promoting “prescriptions” of outdoor recreation, when appropriate, to help patients feel better and help curb the onset of disease. The Park Rx programs include collaboration between public land agencies, healthcare providers, and community partners.
This new wave of thinking about the outdoors and health is what Dr. Mark called the next step in the medical field – Medicine 3.0. He acknowledged that the concept is catching on, but it still has a way to go because many doctors receive incentive to prescribe medication. He also mentioned that “outdoor play” refers to any activity that a person participates in, such as a playing basketball on a court or walking a trail.
In this time of COVID, the messaging of public health and outdoor recreation can be confusing, especially given the mixed messages of closing trails and transmission of the virus. According to Dr. Mark, people have a significantly low risk of catching COVID when walking by people on a trail, even if you are closer than six feet apart. The natural elements of space, breeze, and movement contribute to the low risk, in addition to not touching hard surfaces. So, his general advice was to simply use common sense and if you feel more comfortable wearing a mask when outside, wear a mask. Be respectful of people’s space, be aware of your actions, and maintain good hygiene.
Reading Recommended by Dr. Mark:
Why people get sick with COVID and how to protect yourself (by Dr. Mark)
COVID impacts for communities of color
How the outdoors can be a “stone of hope”
Collaboration between the National Park Service, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Nation Historic Park, and the Eastern Area Health Education Center – Info on trails, parks, food, and health
The Design of Cities and the Design of City Streets https://www.ted.com/talks/janette_sadik_khan_new_york_s_streets_not_so_mean_any_more?language=en
Fill your prescription – find a park near you! the leading information hub for Park Prescriptions and a space for knowledge sharing in the practitioner community.
Freedom Run Foundation https://runforyourlifebook.com/foundation/
“An Event for Health and Heritage, their goal was to promote healthy lifestyles, walking and biking paths, and more involvement in the nearby national parks.”
Book: Run for Your Life: How to Run, Walk, and Move Without Pain or Injury and Achieve a Sense of Well-Being and Joy by Dr. Mark Cucuzzella https://runforyourlifebook.com/