Scottish Doctors Prescribing Nature to Patients

In recent months, there has been an increased awareness about the importance and health benefits of staying socially connected with our communities, especially in older age when seniors can more easily become isolated.  Doctors are even prescribing social activities and cultural experiences to encourage patients to stay connected with others.  Spending time in nature also provides important physical and mental health benefits and recently in Scotland, doctors have started prescribing time each week in nature to prevent depression, reduce blood pressure, and increase happiness.

According to a recent report in Big Think, doctors in Shetland, Scotland have created a calendar of outdoor activity recommendations and are prescribing time in nature to their patients.  In an effort to help treat chronic health condition including diabetes, heart disease, anxiety, mental illness and other conditions, doctors are prescribing time outdoors to connect with nature. Whether hiking the moors, birdwatching or beachcombing for shells, this supplemental treatment for chronic conditions is hoped to improve health and well-being for patients.

Scotland’s Nature Prescriptions program has even developed a leaflet with suggested activities for each month of the year.  Developed in partnership with The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, it’s not surprising that many of the activities focus on spotting birdlife.  But the real goal of the project is to encourage people to experience more time in nature in an increasingly urbanized world.

According to recent research, published in the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States) Journal, people who walked for 90 minutes through a natural environment experienced a reduction in rumination and neural activity in the area of the brain associated with mental illness.  By 2050, an estimated 70 percent of people will live in urban areas and it will be increasingly important for residents to seek out time in natural settings to protect their mental health.

Not only will getting outdoors for a hike, with proper clothing and footwear, help promote regular physical activity, taking time to quietly appreciate the sights and sounds of nature can be deeply calming, helping to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and improve a sense of overall well-being.