Most people love to talk about their vacations, especially if the vacation was a good one (if all your vacations have been good ones, consider yourself blessed). Not having thought much about a topic for today (I was on vacation!), the morning paper on the day we returned came to the rescue, in a way that brought the week into perspective with themes familiar to this space: obesity and inactivity, promoting healthy lifestyle changes that endure, medicine’s creative attempts to motivate positive behaviors. The modality reported on was a familiar one, that of prescription – Rx power! Not for medications, or even gym time – those would not be newsworthy – but the new and notable angle is that pediatricians are prescribing Outside Time, for children who are at risk, and please leave your electronic devices in the house.
As a kid, my mom was always telling me to go play outside, but as we all know, times have changed. And the emphasis is not just on outside, but “outside in nature”, or “outside in the sunshine”, or most importantly “outside coming up with something on your own, even if it’s just looking around and being curious about what’s out there, so long as you’re active.” And the “evidence-based” benefits already recognized? Lower blood pressure, reduction in reported stress, and success with some in actually losing weight. But the general improvement in well-being is where the real gold lies, here.
I present my vacation as evidence. My wife and I spent the past week on a Massachusetts Audubon trip. It was ostensibly about finding birds, but the transcendent part lay in just being outside as much as humanly possible, walking, sometimes clambering, and looking. Like a whole lot. Like from 5am most days until the sun set, and a little after that. Our group numbered 17, and while the energy and enthusiasm waned at times (we also tended to eat on the run), the general level of passion and joy was pretty constant. Here’s the kicker: most of the group was over 50, many well past that. Our leader, the most energetic of all, turns 70 tomorrow.
None of us ever got a prescription for doing this type of thing, I am sure, but if that’s what it takes nowadays, it seems like a pretty good idea.
John Dabrowski, LICSW
Neponset Health Center & Geiger Gibson Community Health Center
Harbor Health Services, Inc.