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”. Doctors now prescribe nature to patients.
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.
Prescribing Nature – 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 trialled in the UK. 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
Prescribing Nature Elsewhere in the World
Now it’s not just Doctors in Scotland that are writing these prescriptions, Dr Robert Zarr, a paediatrician in Washington also writes detailed prescriptions for his younger patients. Patients who are often obese, having ADHD, anxious or depressed. Dr Zarr prescribes which park to go to, how many days to go and for how long. Dr Zarr believes that getting his patients outside and active, benefits their health greatly in both the physical and mental sense.
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.
Does Prescribing Time In Nature Really Help?
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, 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.
Breathe In Nature
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.
When You Discover It Works
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.
Prescribe Nature to Yourself
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 strongly urge that you do some of your research into how nature could help you. Use it when choosing where you camp or spending time outside and encourage the younger generation, whether your children, siblings, family members or youth groups to spend more time outside.
Nature lifts and energises us, boosting both physical and mental health. Once you start to feel these changes for yourself you will be amazed and use it to make a positive change in your life. You only get one life. So let nature nurture it a little by allowing it into your life regularly. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.
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