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Suffolk County Approves Legislation Calling For Park Exercise Prescriptions

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- In a first for the Tri-State Area, health care professionals in the suburbs may soon be giving patients unusual prescriptions.

As CBS2's Jennifer McLogan reported, the patients are receiving a doctor's prescription not for medication, but for serious exercise in the form of walking in parks.

"It is unusual, but I do think that it's necessary," said Susan Monahan, who received a prescription. "I just had a physical yesterday, and was told that -- even though we do the walk – that being more active is better."

Monahan is part of a group of airline workers that walks at lunch every day. They are keenly aware of legislation that just passed in Suffolk County, establishing a parks prescription program for outdoor activity to improve the health and wellness of residents.

"We're going to partner with doctors to get folks active," said Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn. "We have real problem with chronic illness, obesity, heart disease -- sedentary life styles are causing individuals to sick"

Hahn sponsored the bill, and an online database will now allow public access to parks mapping and exercise information closest to patients' homes.

"I take my son to the park and we ride the bikes," said cyclist William Murrin. "I know it is a little cold out, but it warms the blood."

"Exercise is better than just staying home and relaxing," added Ryan Murrin, 8.

Chronic illness costs the county hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in lost work. Ten percent of medical expenses are directly attributable to obesity.

William Spencer is both a medical doctor and a Suffolk County legislator. He touts the new parks prescription program as a dose of the perfect preventative medicine our nation needs.

"As a legislator and a physician, I think this is a great opportunity for us to be able to prescribe a fitness program," Spencer said.

With tens of thousands of acres of free parkland, there are no excuses that gyms and exercise equipment are too expensive. Doctors said the plan can improve mental health, reduce stress, and lower blood pressure.

The bill emulates National Parks Service legislation. Washington, D.C. doctors are already on board.

The goal is that all Suffolk practitioners will join the Parks Prescription Program in 2015.

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