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For more information on the Park Prescription Program, go to www.nps.gov/indu.

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



BEVERLY SHORES — After students from the Discovery Charter School led a group of adults in a series of warm-ups and stretches, it was off for a hike on the Calumet Dune Trail.

It was just what the doctor may order.

On Thursday, the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders from the school in Porter and representatives from the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Porter Health System kicked off the Park Prescription Program, the first partnership in the country between a national park and a local hospital to promote outdoor exercise as a path to patient well being.

“We are the model. Other parks are now asking us, what do we need to do?” said Lynda Lancaster, the park’s civic engagement and volunteer program manager, before the start of a news conference on the program.

Doctors will prescribe appropriate exercise in the park on one of five trails — including the Calumet Dune Trail — for their patients, evaluating their progress along the way. The other trails in the program are the Hobart Prairie Grove Trail, the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk, the Great Marsh Trail and the Bailly/Chellberg Trail.

The national park is part of the community, said park superintendent Costa Dillon, “and community wellness is part of what we do.” He added that people recover more fully when they exercise outside.

At the very least, outdoor exercise helps combat vitamin D deficiency with exposure to sunshine, said Omer Ansari, a family physician with Westchester Medical Group in Chesterton.

“It gives you an opportunity to reconnect with friends and other people,” he said, while using a treadmill at home while watching television “doesn’t exercise your brain.”

The ultimate goal of the program, Dillon said, would be to have additional health systems involved, and have state, county and city parks participating as well.

The program in the national park will come to include paddling, biking and winter pastimes such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

“This is just the very beginning,” Dillon said. “It’s not where we end — it’s where we start.”

The Parks Prescription Program caught the attention of Brent Spence of Munster, who came to check it out with his mother-in-law, Corinne Guntner of Bremen.

Spence, who is on medications for his blood pressure and cholesterol, said he’ll be interested to see how the program works. He and his wife, Diane, and Guntner like to go walking, and prefer outside exercise.

“It’s good for you,” he said.



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