Opting Outdoors with the REI Foundation

When Nooshin Razani, MD, was in fifth grade, her elementary school took a week-long trip to Yosemite National Park. She still remembers that week with startling clarity, comparing the experience to falling in love. Decades later, her appreciation of the natural world remains as strong as ever.

Dr. Razani is now director of the Center for Nature and Health at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, which promotes access to nature as part of patients’ care and overall well-being. Dr. Razani is thrilled that “prescribing nature” has become an integral part of clinical treatment. Prescriptions include enrolling patients and families in a monthly nature shuttle to visit local parks, trails, and open spaces to improve their health.

The parks prescription program was designed in collaboration with the East Bay Regional Parks District and made possible through the support of dedicated partners such as the East Bay Regional Parks District Foundation, the National Recreation Parks Administration, and most recently, the REI Foundation, which awarded the Center for Nature and Health a grant of $200,000.

“One of the REI Foundation’s primary focuses is to get more young people − especially youth from underserved populations − into the outdoors,’’ says Laura Swapp, vice president of the REI Foundation. “By supporting the Center for Nature and Health, we’ll help families discover the benefits of outdoor experiences and ideally inspire other organizations and hospitals to follow UCSF Benioff Oakland’s lead.”

Studies show the trend toward sedentary, indoor life parallels the increase in heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. But these conditions also are preventable, and organizations like UCSF Benioff Oakland and the REI Foundation are actively exploring the role of outdoor activity as part of the solution.