Doctors from Scotland and the UK will soon be prescribing nature as part of their treatment plans for patients with chronic illness. CNN previously reported that the nature prescriptions are primarily being rolled out for patients with chronic illnesses to help treat a range of health problems including anxiety, depression, diabetes, and high blood pressure. According to BBC News, doctors in Scotland are launching the Nature Prescriptions project as part of an initiative to help Shetland Islands patients reap the health benefits of simply spending time outside. Following the news, doctors have also recommend nature prescriptions as a way to help manage chronic stress.
All 10 of the county’s public surgeries will now have a calendar and leaflet listing walks and activities, made by the Royal Society of Birds Scotland (RSPB Scotland), that doctors can hand out to patients, according to an RSPB news release.
There’s plenty of evidence showing the positive additions in the healing power of a walk in the woods. “Forest bathing,” a version of the Japanese practice Shinrin-Yoku, is taking off in America, and many other places around the globe as a way to boost happiness and help with insomnia. The practice has long been studied by scientists who have shown time and time again how going into nature changes the way the brain works.
Researchers at the University of Essex found that 9 out of 10 patient suffering from depression felt “higher self-esteem after a walk through a park.” Almost three-quarters reported feeling less depressed and the researchers found that people recovered faster from illnesses through an ‘immunising’ effect that protected them from future stresses.
Patients receiving the new nature prescriptions will be given a seasonal calendar, and a list of safe walking trails that are best suited for bird-watching, seasonal outdoor activities, and discovering different types of plants. Per the calendar, patients will be encouraged to “write a worry onto a stone and throw it into the sea,” or “look out for humpback whales on their autumn migration” as part of their treatment. Other recommendations in the prescriptions will include making daisy chains, eating a three course meal with family outdoors, taking the time to appreciate a cloud, and talking to a pony, etc.
According to a recent RSBS press release, the Nature Prescriptions partnership project between the National Health Service (NHS) Shetland and RSBS Scotland is the first of its kind in the UK, and is officially rolling out after a successful pilot program was tested last year. It’s further noted in the press release that “Nature Prescriptions recognises the benefits of nature on reducing blood pressure, reducing anxiety and increasing happiness as well as the growing disconnection with nature throughout society.”
Part of the prescription will also include encouraging patients to wander beaches looking for shells, explore coastal trails, and birdwatch. While the new nature prescriptions aren’t intended to be a substitute for other forms of medical care, including nature in your every-day life has been proven countless times to have a positive impact on an individuals health. Doctors have urged that nature prescriptions are designed as a supplement to conventional medical treatments. The benefits to patients of participating in the new prescription are that it is entirely free, easily accessible, allows increased connection with surroundings and could potentially lead to an improved physical and mental health for individuals who would be otherwise suffering.
Ultimately, patients are urged to “Get out whatever the weather, and feel the exhilaration of wind and rain on your face,” in order to maintain the connection to nature year round. Doctors urge for those participating to get outside, even if it’s just for a few minutes, regardless of whether it’s the middle of Summer or the middle of Winter. The health benefits – according to science – are worth it!