Berks Nature hopes its new program has the prescription to combat obesity and boost mental health

Dr. Michael Suk, chairman of Geisinger Health System's Muscoskeletal Institute, talks Wednesday about getting outdoors as a way to improve your health at Berks Nature's State of the Environment breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Reading in Wyomissing. 

WYOMISSING — Will a prescription from your doctor get you outdoors to lower your blood pressure and improve your mental health?

That's what Berks Nature, the county's leading conservation and environmental organization, is advocating.

Berks Nature on Wednesday, Nov. 6, announced a new program — Berks Nature RX — aimed at combating obesity and boosting mental health. The program was announced in partnership with the Berks County Medical Society.

There are just four similar programs in Pennsylvania, according to ParkRx.org, an organization that advocates for and tracks the effects of the programs.

Officials unveiled a dedicated website, berksnaturerx.com, and announced the return of the website, greaterreadingtrails.com.

The program was announced to about 200 people, including students from six high schools and two colleges, at Berks Nature's annual State of the Environment presentation at Crowne Plaza Reading in Wyomissing.

The program was conceived in response to high rates of stress, depression, obesity and diabetes in the community, said Berks Nature President Kim Murphy.

At the same time, people are experiencing a disconnect from the natural world. Murphy said spending time outside came up repeatedly last winter during Berks Nature's review of its state of the environment.

The program urges doctors to help get people to spend 120 minutes week outdoors for mental and physical health.

To talk about the science behind the prescribing parks, Berks Nature brought a founder of the burgeoning Park Rx movement, Dr. Michael Suk, chairman of Geisinger Health System's Muscoskeletal Institute. Under President George W. Bush, Suk spearheaded an initiative in the U.S. Department of the Interior to develop a link between public health and recreation.

Suk was joined by a panel of local doctors to help relate how the benefits of the outdoors can be realized in Berks. They discussed how people and the community can overcome barriers to getting outdoors, such as safety concerns and distractions of screen time and also encouraged those in the audience to advocate for more free time for students in recess, referring to a recent bill to mandate recess in schools.

While doctors may not be handing out paper prescription notes any more, they do have opportunities to help make the connection to the health benefits of getting out doors.

And Berks has a lot of resources that are untapped or underutilized, said T.J. Huckleberry, executive director of the Berks County Medical Society.

BerksNatureRx.com has resources for residents to track their time outdoors, find places to go and activities. Berks Nature is offering free gifts to those who reach 500 self-reported minutes.

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