Could a doctor-supported nature prescription be in your future? When suffering from mental or physical ailments, many people turn to prescription drugs to relieve themselves of the suffering they experience. The pharmaceutical industry has greatly influenced the consensus that one does not need to alter their lifestyle choices; they can take the “happy pill” to reduce their pain.
However, many non-academics have advocated for years that being in nature, walking, and engaging in mindfulness exercises can improve one’s mental and physical well-being. For years this was ignored and relegated to the side. Now, researchers out of Australia have proven that there is a scientific link between having a presence in nature and the reduction of anxiety, depression, and other ailments that many suffer in today’s modern world. Enter the nature prescription.
When people think of a prescription, they generally envision a plastic bottle containing a certain amount of medicine used to treat ailments. However, what is becoming more common are nature prescriptions and instructions from your doctor to engage in certain activities that benefit your well-being.
These are sometimes called “green prescriptions” or “blue prescriptions,” recommending time spent in forests, nature, or by bodies of water, respectively. In some areas, the non-medical, not nature prescription practice is known as forest bathing. Australian academics reviewed research into the impacts and effectiveness of green prescriptions, looking into 92 studies in which participants engaged with nature in various capacities. The most frequently recommended activities were walking in nature (46% of all programs), farming or gardening (29%), and mindfulness exercises (29%). Common settings were forests and nature reserves (35% of prescriptions), parks (28%), and community or home gardens (16%). A meta-analysis of the studies showed that a nature prescription was associated with better blood pressure control, improvements in anxiety and depression symptoms, and higher step counts among participants.
Professor Thomas Astell-Burt noted the interlinking of exercise combined with a nature prescription, saying, “You go out for a walk out in a green space which helps with fitness – that also helps to improve your mental health, reduces loneliness, improves sleep, and can also help to reduce one’s blood pressure. These outcomes aren’t independent of each other.” However, more work must be done to determine why and for who the nature prescription would work. Co-lead researcher Prof Xiaoqi Feng of the University of New South Wales School of Population Health said more randomized controlled trials were required to “reveal how effective and cost-effective nature prescriptions can be over a sustained period of time, and also what kinds of a nature prescription would work for whom.”
Intuitively, many people understand the benefits of being in nature. Being surrounded by trees, appreciating the complexity of the forest, and seeing the rhythm of waves on a beach, is something we have evolved with for millennia. It seems like only in our modern era have we turned to man-made products to help us cope with the lack of nature in our surroundings rather than fall back on the very environment we evolved with to help us regenerate our minds and bodies.
The proof being shown scientifically that nature does indeed help us simply by being in it affirms what many have intuitively known and can help guide those who might not believe so without scientifically quantified evidence being presented. Nature prescriptions could very well be the antidote to the widespread suffering we see and experience on a day-to-day basis and, hopefully, could be the basis for integrating more natural life into our everyday surroundings.