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Trail Rx: New Wellness Program Offers Nature as a Prescription for Healing | Local News


CEDAR FALLS – Walking in nature is a prescription for healing.

Scientific research has shown the physical and mental health benefits of spending time in natural surroundings, such as nature reserves and forests. Being in nature, whether walking or hiking, quiet contemplation or even birdwatching can help reduce feelings of anxiety, stress, fear and anger, as well lower blood pressure and heart rate, improve breathing and cognitive abilities, and create a more positive attitude. .

“I have seen the healing benefits of nature firsthand, and my patients who have accompanied me on guided walks report incredible experiences with their physical, mental, and spiritual health,” said Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller, MD. , local integrative medicine physician. . She is also a Medical Advisor for AllTrails, a mobile fitness and travel app used worldwide in outdoor recreational activities, and Chief Medical Officer for Chopra Health Retreats and Certified Forest Therapy Guide.

Hackenmiller is collaborating with Black Hawk County Conservation staff and the Hartman Preserve Nature Center on Trail Rx, a free outdoor wellness program at the Hartman Preserve. It kicks off May 15 with an introductory program at 2 p.m. at the Hartman Reserve Community Hall, 657 Reserve Drive, Cedar Falls. No registration is required to attend the opening event.

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Trail Rx is described as a “self-care prescription” at Hartman that provides a framework for achieving a user’s wellness goals alongside guidance from their health care providers. Hackenmiller worked closely with Connie Svoboda, development coordinator at Hartman and certified forest therapy guide, to identify “prescribed therapy pathways,” she said.

Five trails have been designated Trail Rx trails. These trails have been carefully measured for distance, elevation changes, terrain, physical activity goals, and other data.

“Suzanne wanted to have vantage points to stop and take in the scenery and have inclusivity in mind, so everyone could have access and get something beneficial from the trails,” Svoboda said. “There will be eight different stops along the five trails where participants will see signage with a QR code that can be used to access the Trail Rx website.”

The website will be launched on May 15. There will also be a printed trail map.

Accumulated data, audio files, links and additional information will be available on HartmanReserve.org, along with suggested mental health activities designed to help users connect to their senses, slow down, relax and calm their minds. The program has already been approved by AllTrails.

Hackenmiller plans to work with local medical and health providers to publicize the trail program. For example, a doctor may encourage or “prescribe” Trail Rx to a patient recovering from surgery, or a counselor may suggest nature walking to improve their mental health.

“Not everyone is interested in the physical use of the trails, which brings us to the mental health aspect which applies to everyone. Click on the QR code for a mental health prescription, type of landmark or physical attribute and there will be guided prompts designed to help people immerse themselves in nature through their senses, get out of their heads and sink into the natural world,” Hackenmiller explained. .

“I have seen patients at the clinic, especially during and since the pandemic, with spiraling mental health issues. I will talk with patients about conventional things, but as a complementary approach, “why not consider going out for a bit of exercise or a walk. The benefits these patients have experienced are staggering and frankly remarkable.

Svoboda said informal partnerships with professionals in the area who could provide a Trails Rx prescription “provide some accountability for people. You may have thought about going out to walk the trails for exercise and never did. But if your doctor recommends exercise and you can walk the Maple Loop three times a week, you’re following doctor’s orders.

“We are not healthcare professionals at Hartman,” Svoboda emphasized. “We are simply the hosts of the program and offer the possibility of benefiting from Trail Rx. It is a good tool in a person’s wellness journey.

Hackenmiller emphasized, “It’s not time squandered, it’s self-care. Going to the gym is kind of built into our culture, but it can get expensive. Getting out into nature is free and comes with its own health benefits.

For more information on this program or any conservation program, please call (319) 277-2187 or visit BlackHawkCountyParks.com under the Events menu.