There’s a movement growing in the UK’s GP surgeries, hospitals and outpatient clinics. As depression and anxiety rates climb and the obesity and related illness epidemic continues unabated our health care providers are losing patience with their traditional (allopathic) tools. Witness the publication in April 2019 that over 50% of people on the medical industries primary medication for raised cholesterol – statins – do not show sufficient improvement to warrant the continuation of the medication.
Of course, medical doctors are highly unlikely to abandon their prescriptions and procedures, after all there’s still a vital role for their expert application and use, but if they are dealing with people who are getting heavier, sadder or sicker, there is a realisation that this tool kit has limitations. Therefore, safe and in many cases free nature driven prescriptions have a justifiable role in health generation.
These nature focussed ‘lifestyle’ prescriptions take many forms, from a general encouragement to explore the outside world at least twice a week to very specific, duration, location and application interventions.
You see; ’nature-deficit disorder’ as promulgated by the author Richard Louw way back in 2008 is being understood to underlay many adverse health events, and as such represents a reversal opportunity. Hippocrates recognised its value with the declaration that walking is ‘mans best medicine’ and Han dynasty physicians recommended ‘frolicking exercises’ to ward off ageing. In the USA organised events such as ‘Walk with a Doc’ is just one of over 70 such organised events each week, and more are coming on line. You see exposure to non-threatening natural stimuli lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, promotes physical healing, supports immune-system function, raises self-esteem, improves mood, reduces the need for painkillers and reduces inflammation as confirmed by over 480 published papers linking nature to better health.
The typical process of generating interest in the uptake of outdoor activity starts at the desk with two questions:
What do you like to do outside? And where do you like to do it? Once this base is established it takes only a small amount of encouragement to up the activity and expand the experiential benefits of parasympathetic stimulation and restorative processes.
Obviously clinical recommendations have a powerful opportunity to action a first stage engagement but what about long-term application? Well creating groups, joining groups that meet up and share common interests can be a positive social adherent, but even then, there needs to be a drawing force, something that creates interest, sustains commitment and defeats the attraction of inertia.
In the USA an organisation called Park RX has created a structured approach and seems to be attracting many clinicians and participants – in many cases it’s the clinicians that also need the nature prescription. In the UK Park Run has created opportunities for families and individuals to get involved and outdoors. Dr Chatterjee in his latest book the Stress Solution describes how being outside presents the brain with visual fractals derived from natural surroundings that automatically calm the stress response. In a recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, researchers found that that integrating natural environments into urban planning is a promising approach to improve mental health and reduce the rising global burden of psychiatric disorders.
So, have you gone green, recommended going green, or perhaps are thinking about creating a social meet up option and then recommending people to attend.
For over 20 years I recommended people engage in something called hashing, a social gathering of walkers and runners that explored open spaces and catered for all levels of fitness. Whilst the post event visit to the pub needed to be contextualised the social and physical interaction proved its self, many times over to help people break free from personal issues that were plaguing their health.
So, remember when making recommendations, one of the safest and most appreciated interventions may simply be finding a green space and immersing in it. For whilst the science is still evolving to prove it, there is some evidence — as well as good old common sense — to suggest that spending time in nature is good for both the mind and body, whether done as a group or alone. It may be something we all need more of.