By Lisa Santora, MD, MPH
In 2015, I relocated my family from Los Angeles to Marin County for trees. Yes, trees. There were two moments that crystallized my decision to move: watching my son touch his first earthworm when he was 4 years old, and hearing my 3-year old daughter exclaim, “It’s a farm!” when we landed at Philadelphia International Airport. I realized that I couldn’t stay true to my purpose of nurturing a healthy, joyful family in the concrete jungles of LA. My family and I needed nature in our lives.
Nature is scientifically proven to improve our health and well-being. But when most people are diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, their next stop is often the pharmacy. For many of us, the next stop shouldn’t be picking up a new prescription, it should be visiting one of our many parks or open spaces to walk, bike, hike, or shinrin-yoku. Since the 1980s, shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing”, has become the cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japan. Forest bathing has been shown to reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels, lower blood pressure, and moderate nervous system activity. It measurably, objectively and subjectively, improves your health.
The County of Marin strives to make its parks and open spaces accessible for all in Marin. On the first Saturday of every month, Measure A Day, you can enjoy free entry and free parking at all Marin County Parks. Marin County Parks has an Inclusive Access Plan to ensure visitors can use its 16,000 acres of marshland, forests, creeks, and rolling hills according to their own abilities. Now, “other power-driven mobility devices,” like mobility scooters, can be used on trails by individuals with mobility disabilities. Marin County Parks has also partnered with Marin Health and Human Services and community partners, including Marin City Health and Wellness Center, to promote the Parks Prescription Program.
Next time you see Mt. Tam rise majestically before you, think of it as a reminder that it is time to shinrin-yoku.
More resources to help older adults enjoy the outdoors: