The positive power of nature is inspiring doctors to prescribe going outside to improve your health.
Posted in , Mar 22, 2019
On a recent chilly spring day in New England, I found myself looking online at photos of Scotland’s Shetland Islands. I felt transported to a natural paradise, replete with rich green hills, studded with ancient rocks, and surrounded by stunning surf. This rugged landscape surely comes with challenges, like six hours of daylight each winter day, but the awe-inspiring natural beauty of the place is incontrovertible.
I was inspired to take this fantastical online tour after reading about a new program launched by the National Health Service Shetland, a health care agency that oversees all of the sparsely-populated Shetland Islands. Called “Nature Prescriptions,” the program provides a monthly calendar featuring interesting and inspiring suggestions for ways to spend more time outside. Year-round, the materials encourage people to embrace, engage with, and appreciate their natural surroundings. The program’s organizers are confident that being outside will be good for their patients’ physical and emotional health.
Dr. Chloe Evans, whose practice piloted the program last year, said in a statement, “The benefits to patients are that it is free, easily accessible, allows increased connection with surroundings which hopefully leads to improved physical and mental health for individuals.”
Research is on the program’s side. One study showed that just 15 minutes in a natural space can improve heart rate, blood pressure and self-reported stress levels. Another connected living in or near a natural environment with improvements in women’s health and even longevity. Research has also supported the idea that time in nature helps boost creativity and cognitive ability.
I live just outside of Boston, and many of the activities listed on the calendar are available to me in my urban/suburban border town. Some of the universally accessible ideas include:
Others are more delightfully Scottish, like “Spot the first sten-shakkers (wheatears or songbirds) returning to Shetland after wintering south of the Sahara.” It strikes me that developing a checklist of easy, locally-appropriate ways to spend time in nature each day would be relatively simple to create—and highly gratifying to revisit as each month unfolds.
What would be on your nature checklist? What have you noticed about how time in nature affects how you feel?