The 2018 SHIFT Festival

The 2018 SHIFT Festival created a watershed moment. For the first time, proponents of outdoor recreation, conservation and land management—SHIFT’s traditional stakeholder communities—gathered with members of the health care, funding and research communities to explore the critical connection between time spent outside and public health.

The results, as documented in the May 2019 cover story in Outside Magazine, represent one of the most important opportunities of our lifetimes. By highlighting the health benefits of nature, we can raise its value proposition in a time of unprecedented threat.

The 2018 SHIFT Festival took place Oct. 16-18 in Jackson Hole. Over three beautiful fall days, innovators, early adopters and thought leaders at the forefront of the “Outside Rx” movement collaborated on an agenda that advanced a stronger connection between, and thus a stronger argument for, public health and public lands.

The 2018 SHIFT Festival was informed by the Center for Disease Control’s determinants of population health. It featured two tracks:

  • Communication: How do we communicate the evidence behind the health benefits of time outside to the health-care community, the policy makers and the public at large?
  • Activation: What best practices are connecting Americans to time outside in impactful, innovative and replicable ways?

Both tracks were developed around two elements integral to our goal of facilitating networking and the showcasing of best practices:

  • Official Selections for The SHIFT Awards, which feature representatives of the work determined to be the most innovative, impactful and replicable in the space by our researchers
  • The Emerging Leaders Program, which prepares exemplary early career leaders to help facilitate the Festival proceedings

Complementing this work, which comprised the heart of the SHIFT Summit, were numerous ancillary meetings held over the course of the Festival. These included:

  • The third annual State Offices of Outdoor Recreation Workshop, which, by developing the Public Health and Wellness pillar of the Confluence Accords, provided outdoor recreation leadership positions at the state level a roadmap that they can use to advance and promote the health benefits of time outside via their respective offices
  • A “Nature Rx” think tank, which convened leading experts to identify opportunities for mainstreaming “Nature Rx” as an integral element of national healthcare delivery systems. The think tank marked the first time that insurance executives, physicians, outdoor recreation leaders, land managers and conservation advocates met as a group to discuss opportunities for collaboration
  • The “Public Lands, Public Health Exhibition Trail,” which showcased attributes of a successful public lands/public health trail model at both the municipal and federal land levels, and identified opportunities to expand public lands/public health trail collaborations into replicable models for communities nationwide
  • SHIFT for the Planet, a collaboration with 1% for the Planet, Silicon Couloir, and The George B. Storer Foundation, which convened funders to judge SHIFT Award finalists, who made their “pitches” in a series of five-minute presentations that featured the work’s focus, its impact, and a central challenge facing its ongoing success
  • A “Researchers Meeting” that convened researchers from around the country on the final day of SHIFT to discuss ways to use the proceedings to plan a conference on the state of the research. This meeting built upon the numerous research-related panels and small-group discussions that took place throughout the Festival, including presentations by:
    • Dr. Michael Suk, one of the country’s foremost advocates for the health benefits of time outside
    • Dr. Wallace “J” Nichols, noted researcher and the founder of Blue Mind, on water as medicine
    • Northeastern University Professor Arthur Kramer and the University of Utah’s Professor David Strayer, on how physical activity in nature helps address chronic health care conditions such as obesity, diabetes, mental anxiety, social isolation and cognitive decline
    • Dr. Nooshin Razani, Director of University of California San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland’s Center for Nature and Health and winner of the 2018 SHIFT Award for Clinical Research, on improving health equity by increasing access to nature
  • A Land Managers’ Meeting, led by Jon Jarvis, Director of the National Park Service under President Obama, that invited federal and municipal land managers to discuss ways to incorporate best practices identified during The SHIFT Festival into their work and planning
  • A Funders’ Track, led by New Network Leader founder Jane Wei-Skillern, that introduced funders from around the country to the principles critical to collaborative success
  • Nature-rich interventions—immersive techniques that connect people with nature—that taught participants ways they can bring nature more robustly into their lives. Interventions included:
    • A hands-on exploration of the benefits of shinrin-yoku (a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine) led by Dr. Suzanne Bartlett Hackenmiller, the medical director of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy
    • Walk with a Doc, led Dr. David Sabgir, the cardiologist who founded it and led its growth to more than 400 chapters worldwide, in a demonstration of its attributes
    • A Deep Bird Language Workshop, which offered participants a glimpse of the world of Deep Bird Language, including tips on how to “re-awaken” a hardwired skill set of awareness that helped humans evolve
    • A casting clinic, featuring SHIFT Award Official Selections that help those with cancer thrive through nature contact
Dr. Robert Zarr, Founder of ParksRx America, presents his work during SHIFT for the Planet.

As attendee Florence Williams, author of The Nature Fix, put it, “SHIFT 2018 provided a unique and truly inspiring opportunity to bring different perspectives and disciplines together in one place. No one else is doing this in the nature/health arena—and it is critically needed.”

David Weinstein, State and Local Policy Director for the Outdoor Industry Association, agreed. “By focusing on public health as an ecosystem service, SHIFT reframed conservation to include the health benefits derived from the natural world. They’re not possible without accessible lands and waters.”

We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction in the planet’s history. At the same time, technology has sparked the greatest mass migration in human history—a migration inside and behind screens.

This growing disconnect from nature not only adds billions of dollars to health care costs as chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and mental anxiety proliferate. It also undermines the value of nature in society at large: If we do not interact with nature on a regular basis, why should we care what happens to it?

The 2018 SHIFT Festival leveraged the public health benefits of nature as an argument for its protection. By underscoring nature’s importance to public health, we helped raise its value proposition at a time of unprecedented threat.

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