Pittsburgh Parks Prescription: Improving mental and physical health through nature

by Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy

Photo by Kampus Production on Pexels.com

Have you ever noticed that a walk in the park can put you in a better mood? Or perhaps you find that you feel happier on a bright sunny day, and during the summer months when the days are longer? Well, there’s a reason for feeling that way! Research shows that spending time in nature has definite physical and mental benefits, resulting in an improved sense of overall mental and physical well-being.

The Pittsburgh Parks Prescription (Parks Rx) program aims to support the health and wellbeing of children and families by encouraging regular park use and contact with nature. The program first launched in 2016 in partnership with UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and has recently partnered with Adagio Health as well as they begin to implement park prescriptions into their services. For the past several years, Parks Rx has continued to engage community members and encourage Pittsburghers to embrace nature and all it has to offer. 

Parks Rx invites children and adults in every neighborhood to explore and enjoy their local parks. The program provides park activity ideas, resources for local park amenities, and education about the benefits of spending time in nature. Parks Rx also comes in handy for educators and healthcare professionals seeking to share resources and inspiration to get active outdoors and connect with nature. 

This year, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy is delighted to announce that with the support of the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the Parks Rx program will continue to grow! Through DCNR funding, the Parks Conservancy and its partners will have the opportunity to increase sites issuing park prescriptions and provide training to healthcare professionals, teachers, early childhood educators, and park and recreation professionals.  

If you’d like to learn more about the Pittsburgh Parks Prescription Program, visit our Parks Rx webpage or contact Kathryn Hunninen, Senior Manager of Special Initiatives, khunninen@pittsburghparks.org.  

The Pittsburgh Parks Rx program is supported in part by financial assistance from the Environmental Stewardship Fund under the administration of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation. 


Mind your margin

I used to have an annoying tendency to agree to anything that’s far enough in advance.

My bad habit would kick in whenever I looked at my planner and found a blank space during the requested time. Nothing there? Looks like we’re good to go!

Then the future would show up, and I’d discover that once again I’d overbooked my time, attention and energy—to my physical, mental and spiritual detriment.

You’d think I would have caught on quicker, but it took me several decades to learn to reserve the necessary margin I need in my life.

I’ve finally come to view such demands differently, even when my calendar is open, because I can honestly answer that I already have another commitment at that time—to myself!

May is Mental Health month. Do yourself a favor. Give yourself a break.

Mental Health Awareness

by Jason Cerkan, Recreation Manager, A Pocono Country Place, Property Owners Association

The pandemic has been filled with ups and downs and many mixed emotions, information, and knowledge. From isolation to fear of the unknown many people we know may have experienced some form of depression that they may not have experienced before. Isolation led to many unfit people.

When someone is not leading a healthy lifestyle, we often times look at the outcomes in physical fitness terms. Seldom do we talk about mental health and the role it plays in our lives and the illness that may occur. People can not see how another person is truly feeling inside. Mental health impacts everyone’s quality of life and includes our passions, relationships, and experiences. Someone can be born with a genetic predisposition for a mental illness. Our brains can also sustain psychological traumas.

How To Be Supportive

When someone experiences a mental health challenge, here is how you can be supportive:

LISTEN: Let someone really express their experiences. Being someone they can talk to is essential when giving support.

BE NON-JUDGMENTAL: Don’t criticize or minimize the way they feel. You may not be able to understand exactly what they’re going through, and that’s ok.

ASK WHAT, NOT WHY: When you ask questions, avoid asking ‘why’ questions, and instead ask ‘what’ questions. Asking why can have a judgmental tone even if you don’t mean it that way.

GIVE INFORMATION – DON’T DIAGNOSE: Don’t assume they have an illness or condition. Provide direction to resources that can identify and treat mental health issues.

ACT AS A BRIDGE: You can connect someone to mental health resources. Resources include family, school guidance, mental health professionals, and organizations like Navigate Hope.

TEAMMATE IN SUPPORT: Being supportive doesn’t mean your duty is to ‘fix’ someone. Mental health is complicated and solutions aren’t overnight. As a teammate, the best support you can give is by being a trusting ear, helping to navigate resources, and acting as a source of encouragement.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic there were many people who would not have otherwise been lonely, depressed or down. It is important that we acknowledge mental health not only for ourselves but for others. We need to embrace open communication of mental health challenges and be able to provide direction to help others before crisis arises. There is no shame in asking for help. There are tools and treatments to respond, treat and manage mental health issues.

Culture of Health – coming to a park near you!

Did you know that 29% of high school students felt sad or hopeless
almost every day for 2 or more weeks in a row so that they stopped
doing some usual activities (2017; US Dept. of HHS)? Or that 2 in 5 Americans report that they sometimes or always feel their social relationships are not meaningful, and one in five say they feel lonely or socially isolated. Loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a
(2019; Dept. of HSRA). These are startling statistics, but as John Lennon once famously said, “There are no problems, only solutions”! So let’s get solving!

The PRPS Health and Wellness Committee is excited to launch the Culture of Health program this year to address some of these community issues. What is the Culture of Health program you ask…let me tell you about it!

We all know being healthy and well doesn’t just mean being physically fit, but true, sustained wellness is a holistic endeavor. The Culture of Health program is aimed at promoting holistic wellness to children ages 5-12, in four key areas:

Mental Health – a state of successful mental functioning, positive self-image emotional stability and ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity

Intellectual Health – the ability to learn, grow from experiences and utilize intellectual capabilities

Physical Health – the conditioning of one’s body to include absence of disease and improved fitness level

Social Health – Learning to positively interact with others, understanding individuality within the framework of a community, gaining skills to communicate and handling conflict with peers

The Culture of Health (CoH) program is a free, 100% turn key option that can be implemented this year in OST and summer camps and we encourage all PRPS member communities to take part!

Some program nuts and bolts:

The CoH Program Handbook includes:

A. Program overview, goals and 4 H & W component definitions

B. Example of a weekly implementation model

C. 10-12 activities for each H & W component organized into a CoH cookbook

D. Each activity “recipe” includes goal, instructions and supplies; all activities involve common P & R supplies – no additional expenses!

All resource materials will be housed on the PRPS website:

A. CoH logo will be available to be added to program flyers, staff trainings and will identify your program as a CoH partner!

B. Program staff training video

C. Culture of Health program guide

The Health and Wellness Committee is super excited to roll the Culture of Health program out this year! But this is where we need your help! We all know the last year has been tough. Our kids are stuck in a virtual existence, positive social interactions are few and far between, and we can all see challenges ahead. Take advantage of this amazing resource and set your kids up for truly, truly improved health. Happy, connected, clear, confident, heart healthy happiness!

We look forward to discussing the Culture of Health program more at the 2021 PRPS Annual Conference in a few short weeks, but my advice…register today by simply emailing Emily Gates at egates@prps.org!

Parks move us forward

What does it really mean to be healthy and well? The PRPS Health and Wellness Committee is continuously looking at this definition, seeing how its changing, and identifying how we can be problem solvers, happiness givers, identity creators and community builders. During the pandemic, its become quite clear that our park’s play a major role in maintaining one’s mental health.

As many of you know, I’m a military veteran. I can probably count on thirty fingers (I have extras) the number of veteran friends I have that struggle with PTSD. Parks are there for them. During the pandemic, with everything shut down, our parks and forests were where these folks found comfort and connection. Walking trails, fishing, teaching their children to hunt. Even though the pandemic has caused a nationwide pause, as individuals and families we psychologically need to feel we are moving forward. Parks helped them move forward.

When I was three years old, my father committed suicide, which understandably became a difficult thing for me and my family to deal with. I can remember many days as a kid being angry, sad, defeated, impulsive. Every single time I felt that way, I would walk out my front door, grab a basketball and go shoot. Sometimes with a bunch of friends and sometimes just me at the foul line. For hours. Parks helped me move forward.

Today, with so much uncertainty regarding the economic, political and social fabric that binds us together, our mental health is more important than ever. The CDC reported in August that 40.9% of survey respondents said the pandemic had negatively affected their mental health, to include anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. This figure is alarmingly up 3-4 times over normal rates.

As a profession, we are always trying to make the argument that we are essential, and the opportunity to cement our story is at our doorstep. As illustrated by record attendance across the state, our residents see the essential value in what we do, parks help everyone move forward.

The Health and Wellness Committee is actively looking to increase mental health and wellness programming and initiatives, and welcomes your ideas! Email me at jlang@eastgoshen.org with your ideas, stories and suggestions!

Source: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm

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