Nature Now Prescribed by Doctors

How do you feel after spending time outside and in nature or during and after a camping trip? If like me you feel better, soothed, grounded or even more relaxed it may not be just because “it’s your thing”, “your time out” or “your hobby”.

It is most probably because of the healing affects it has on the human body. So much so that Doctors in Shetland, Scotland are now allowed to prescribe spending time in nature to their patients.

Who knows, maybe someday soon they’ll start prescribing camping trips! Now that would be great news for some, a week off work with a camping trip prescribed. Now that would be heaven.

A U.K. First

Since 5th October 2018 Doctors from NHS Shetland have been able to prescribe spending time in nature to their patients to help reduce symptoms of several medical conditions.

This is seemingly the first time this has been trialed in the UK and as well as them prescribing nature they also have a full twelve-month calendar of activities for anyone to use. You can find this calendar here.

Some of the activities include:

  • Cloud watching
  • Make a bug hotel
  • Bury your face in the grass
  • Make a daisy chain
  • Go Geocaching – read our Geocaching post here.
  • Write a worry on a stone and toss in the sea

These are only a sample of what is on the calendar and some of the activities are based around Shetland, but there is more than enough to give you ideas and get you outside.

Science has proven that spending time outside and in nature has amazing benefits for many of health complaints including those listed below.

  • Reduces blood pressure
  • Relieves anxiety
  • Helps with depression
  • Lifts our mood
  • Reduces aggression
  • Reduces ADHD symptoms
  • Can improve our immune systems

 

 

Elsewhere in the World

Now it’s not just Doctors in Scotland that are writing these prescriptions Dr. Robert Zarr, a pediatrician in Washington also writes detailed prescriptions for his patients. Patients who are often obese, having ADHD, anxious or depressed is prescribed which park to go to, how many days to go and for how long.

He now leads aver 50 doctors across 11 states in America who use a program called Park RX America. This program lists local parks that can be used to provide this EcoTherapy.

The Japanese are also keen to use nature help when it comes to their health. A common practice in Japan called Shinrin-Yoku or “forest bathing” is where participants spend time in green areas to help improve or maintain a healthy mental and physical balance.

It is not a new idea that nature really is the best medicine for many ailments. 16th-centuary, German-Swiss physician, Paracelsus wrote “the art of healing comes from nature, not from a physician”. He could never have imagined the world we now live in and the technology we are surrounded by.

There have also been many writings on the evils of smartphones, tablets and the likes as we detach all the more from our natural surroundings. The more technology we seem to be using the more it can seem to keep us indoors. Many children spend far less time outside let alone in nature than they did even as little as 10 years ago. Although I suspect this is an accumulative action due to the social and economic changes and dangers presented in today’s society.

Both our bodies and our minds need nature, and this is continually being backed by science.

Is This Really New News?

Now, I know for most of us who love spending time outdoors already this may come as no surprise, but for others it may be just be a reason to start getting out even more.

There have been over 20 years of research by experts and scientists into this subject and over recent years and the results are overwhelmingly positive of spending time in nature to heal or help relieve many of the above listed medical conditions.

Now is more about getting this information in front of the masses in a way that will provoke a positive response.

If like many others, myself included you spend time online or on social media you will be reading about just how much depression and anxiety seems to be plaguing and taking over many teenage and young adults’ lives. Some blame this on technology and social media itself but what if making sure we spend more time in nature and in natural environments would help to bring back some balance in our lives?

There is now emerging research and evidence that children that grow up spending more time outside and in natural environments tend to adjust well later in life. Not only being healthier and happier adults but also being more successful in personal, social and work lives.

The Children and Nature Network, based in the U.S. is a great place to learn and explore how spending time in nature and green environments enhances the lives of young children and the impact it can have throughout their lives.

Ecotherapy

Ecotherapy, green therapy, nature therapy or earth therapy are among the names used for when people are directed or prescribed to spend time outside in nature by a medical professional. But what is it about spending this time outside that greatly affects us?

Firstly, it gives us time to ourselves, away from home, with little distractions to just be. To be focused, to be aware of our surroundings, to listen and feel what is going on around us.

Often, we are so caught up in our busy lives to really notice all that is going on around us. Even just taking a quiet seat in a local park for 10 minutes and paying attention you will notice how everything slows down. Your brain stops going at 100 miles per hour and seems to naturally slow down. Your muscles start to relax, you start to see and hear things that you would not normally notice.

This in itself can be a delightful break from our busy lives and leave you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. That ten-minute break may be all you need to stop you feeling so overwhelmed by life. What if you were to make this a regular practice? Do you think it would help you bring a little balance into your life?

Now, therapy would require a little more than just 10 minutes sitting on a bench to really start to make a difference. At least 4 x 20 minutes sessions a week are what seems to be minimal prescriptions when therapy is used to treat medical conditions.

That is only 80 minutes a week! Does it still seem a lot?

What if I were to tell you there are 10, 080 minutes in a week and most adults spend almost 80 minutes a day on or checking their mobile phones? Is better health not worth that, worth 20 minutes 4 times a week?

If a pill could provide all the relief that nature can to us mere humans would everyone not be scrambling to get a prescription from their doctor for it. We would all want some and be shouting about it from the rooftops.

 

What the Scientists Say

Scientists researching this are providing much evidence in favour of nature but the top three major factors are related to the air we breathe while spending time in nature. This air is filled with negatively charged ions, natural, plant derived, essential oils and healthy bacteria.

Negatively Charged Ions – it is said that negatively charged are found more in forested areas and around bodies of water. This is highly beneficial and is why we feel so good after taking a walk in the forest or beside water. Many people even buy machines that will give our negatively charged ions in their air or ionized water to drink.

Negative ions are most commonly found around water, the more the water is moving the more negative ions produced. So, waterfalls, waves crashing and even after a heavy downpour of rain is where and when the air will have most of these beneficial ions.



 

These negative ions are said to help lift moods, relieve headaches, reduce anxiety and depression.

Essential Oils – as many of you will be aware natural essential oils come mostly from plants and flowers and these are extracted using varying methods and bottled for us to use. These are often used around the home and in our beauty products. Often used for healing or health boosting properties or through inhalation to lift or calm our moods.

Plant derived natural oils in nature work in the same way, by inhaling them helps to relax us and lift our mood. The oils produced from plants and the bacteria living on them are also useful in helping fight off micro-organisms that can be harmful to us. Some of these microorganisms are what causes things from colds and viruses to more severe diseases such as pneumonia and infections.

Beneficial Bacteria – bacteria are all around us, both good and bad. You will have heard the adverts for good bacteria in certain food that will help your gut!

Well some of the bacteria found in the air which we inhale, especially within forested areas are very beneficial and will also help. Like those good bacteria in food the bacteria we breathe can help our gut. These bacteria are responsible for helping us to break down food our bodies cannot digest and produce substances that help us feel well both physically and mentally.

**EDIT

Just after writing this post I came across this post in the Scottish Hill Walking & Wild Camping Facebook Group and contacted the user to see if he would mind me sharing a screenshot of his post.  I just wanted to show that there are people out there using this to their advantage and completely reaping the benefits of it.  By people sharing posts and information such as these we will all be able to share and encourage others to help themselves to some much-needed health boosts.

Conclusion

I strongly feel that the evidence from all these researchers and scientists should not only be promoted but used.

Nature is FREE and does not contain all those harmful chemicals used in prescription drugs, it really only has positive side effects. It is time to use what nature has provided for us and use it to our advantage to maintain a healthy body and mind as much as possible.


It is also important that we care and protect all our green areas for future generations. Whether this be through rejecting construction companies taking over and flattening our green areas for offices, housing or commercial use or by keeping it clean and free of litter, so we maintain balance in our ecosystems for both flora and fauna to flourish.

I’d ask that you do some of your research into how nature could help you. Use it when choosing where you camp or spend time outside and encourage the younger generation, whether your children, siblings, family members or youth groups to spend more time outside.

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11 thoughts on “Nature Now Prescribed by Doctors”

  1. Most physiological diseases or stress related diseases can be handle by nature. Its very obvious that the life we live in now is becoming a psyco somatic prison we have created for our self. Not spending time alone on sitting behind a computer for so long is tantamount to slowly killing our brains and body. With every work done indoors a near equal amount of time is suppose to unwind  this will give us the true refreshment of body and soul. Personally protecting the environment and whiling my time with  nature is my hobby. Thanks Michelle for this post on the importance of eco therapy .

    Reply
  2. Thanks for writing this article on how important nature is to our health as a human being. There are some illness that don’t require any drug what so ever only fresh air and looking at the beauty of nature. This works most times for old people as written in the article because I have experienced it with my grandma when she was alive, she always tell us to take her out side every morning before every one go to work and doing that extend her life for 10 year more.

    Reply
  3. I really like this topic. I feel it is very relevant for all of society at present due to the speed of life currently.  Why do you think it is only the NHS in Shetland in the UK is the only NHS doing this?  It seems bizarre as there are lots of lpaces across the UK that could really benefit this calendar schedule.

    With all the benefits that are listed, are there any that stand out percentage wise?  I would love to know how much difference it makes percentage wise for each category.

    i think the younger generation would really benefit from the Ecotherapy, if each young person was to spend 80 minutes a week without phones or technology it would be really interesting to see the results on the decrease in stress and anxiety.  What do you think the other benefits would be for young people and how could we encourage this to happen for the younger generation who like the excitement of technology.

    I’d never heard about negative charged ions but wondered if I’m ignorant about this, how can we inform other people that there are scientific benefits.  There are lots of people who are not knowledgeable about this subject, I think with research and statistics for schools, old people homes, gyms etc we could really see a change in people’s mental health for the better.  How do you think society would change if more and more people took on the Ecotherapy challenge?

    Reply
    • Hi Glen, 

      I think the Shetlands were chosen to trial prescribing nature before hopefully rolling it out across the UK. 

      I don’t know exact percentages and feel this would differ on personal experiences. 

      I am also totally with you on the younger generation. there is so much disconnect these days and the number of young people diagnosed with depression and anxiety is going through the roof.  This really hits home as I write this as there were 2 teenage deaths yesterday where I live caused by them taking their own lives. It is so, so sad and I strongly feel that early intervention and encouraging time in nature would help.  I’d love to see anti-depressants replaced by nature clinics or prescribed nature.

      Negative ions occur naturally in the air, so fo positive ions. positive ions are normally caused by things we use every day like all our electrical goods.  I have not researched this and I am no scientist but it is proven that you sleep better when you have no phones or electrical equipment in your sleeping area so I feel the negative ion may help provide balance. Technology is a wonderful things but I think we sometimes need a break from it.

      Yes we need to be talking about this and that is the main reason I wrote this post, the more people that are aware of these benefits the better.  I will be sharing this post as much as possible to help spread the word.

      Reply
  4. nature is free indeed,i do recall last time i was close to a river the feeling was relaxing the fresh air so calm putting me a relax mood i almost slept off .Knowing that nature can help  with depression, reduces blood pressure and much more i will be spending more time with nature 

    Reply
    • It is good to hear that you will now be spending more time in nature.  I hope you keep this in mind and notice the difference it makes to how you feel, think and sleep.

      If you can make this a regular thing i’m sure you will feel healthier.

      Enjoy

      Michelle

      Reply
  5. I absolutely love this! I prescribe myself Ecotherapy every day. I think it’s so great to get outside. I even used to hate to be out the in the cold, but I realized that if I bundle up and get out there, I feel SO much better. 

    First of all, being out in nature lets you connect with a higher source. Everything out there is absolutely perfect, and just thinking about it gives me such a sense of awe. 

    Secondly, getting exercise is important, and what better way to do it than going outside?? You can enjoy fresh air AND exercise. This is not only great for the body, but it’s great for the mind. 

    Third, when I go outside, I get so many ideas and answers to questions I’ve had. It’s like a channel opens up in my brain and just allows answers and ideas to flow in. I don’t know what I’d do without that time. 

    I’m glad doctors are getting on board with this. We evolved spending ALL of our time outdoors. Of course it’s good for us! 

    Reply
    • Hi Christina so glad you get and feel the benefit and I totally agree that mother nature provides us with all we need.  If we take care of what she offers she will take care of us, I’ve always thought that.

      Reply
  6. Wow, Thank you for sharing this fascinating article. And you’re right, when I first started reading about doctors prescribing ‘Nature’ for patients, I was surprised. But the more I read,  the more I thought, “Of course! What could be a more natural healing process?”

    I remember when my dog Toni was with me (she died 3 years ago), we would go to the Riverwalk once a week (it’s a nature trail beside the Congaree River) and spend an hour walking, jogging and enjoying nature. I remember thinking every week when we returned home, “Wow, I really NEED this time with her and with nature.”

    And thanks so much for breaking our nature time down into doable time frames. That is many people’s excuse (including mine) ~ ” I just don’t have the time!” It only takes a few minutes here and there, to truly make a difference. 

    Thanks for this post, I believe this in itself is making a difference.

    Sue

    Reply
    • Hi Sue I am glad you enjoyed the article and sorry for your loss.  Dogs make spending time in nature so easy and I also miss my pooch for this.

      During the winter months I sometimes feel like I get cabin fever if not out as often and always feel the benefit on returning from my time in nature.  For me, this is a great de-stresser and mood enhancer.

      I really hope that not only more doctors see the benefit but also care and educational systems.

      We can all benefit from this free self care approach.

      Michelle

      Reply
  7. Thanks, Michelle for this highly educative post. Urban life is denying us lots of benefits we could get free from nature. It is great that scientists, Doctors have started advising their patients to spend time in nature to improve their health. This is something I practiced when I was younger, and I can attest to all the benefits you listed. From science, I understand that trees breathe out oxygen, which we human breathes in, and takes in carbondixoide, which we breathe in. Access to fresh and undiluted oxygen is available at nature.  Every part of the body need oxygen, the fresher the better.

    Reply

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