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Nature's prescription

autumn mental health nature outdoors Scotland walking well-being

Nature’s prescription: how harnessing nature can help you feel better

 Doctors in Shetland have started prescribing nature to patients in a joint project developed by NHS Shetland and RSPB Scotland. The new scheme recognises the important role being outdoors and in nature can play in improving our physical and mental health, and our sense of overall well being.

 Nature prescriptions are designed to be part of an overall treatment plan, working alongside drugs and other therapies to help patients achieve good health.

 So this week, we thought we’d celebrate some of the health benefits of spending more time in nature – whatever your age.

 It eases fatigue

According to a study in The Journal of Nature Psychology spending time in natural environments can help our brains unwind, be less overwhelmed, and generally feel restored and rejuvenated. So next time you feel like all you can do is slump on the sofa in front of the TV, force yourself to grab your coat and have a short walk to the nearest tree instead, and see how you feel. 

It may help prevent cancer

Cancer is a serious illness, and the Nature’s Prescriptions scheme isn’t advising we give up medical treatment in favour of time in the woods. But research suggests that being in forests may stimulate the production of natural killer (NK) cells, which produce an enzyme that kills tumour cells. A Japanese study found an increase in the number of these cells in participants who had spent time in forests, compared with a control group who hadn’t. 

It lowers your blood pressure

A number of studies have found that walking lowers your blood pressure. It’s likely to be the combination of moderate activity and the de-stressing effects of nature that have this beneficial effect. 

It may help your eyes

Studies suggest that being outside can reduce the instances of near-sightedness, or myopia, in children. A study in Sydney, Australia found that 12 year olds who spent more time outside, whether it was for sport, leisure or transport, had lower levels of near-sightedness than the 12 year olds who were not outside as frequently. 

It can help ease depression and anxiety

A number of studies have found that being in green and blue natural environments is great for our moods and sense of well being. This is good for all of us, but people experiencing mental ill health reported the most beneficial effects of being in a natural environment, especially with water present. While being in nature isn’t recommended as a full replacement for other therapies, including drugs where needed, it does seem to play a helpful role as part of a programme of treatment. 

If that’s inspired you to get outside more, try the Nature’s Prescription Calendar developed by the Shetland project. While some of the ideas relate specifically to the flora and fauna of Shetland, many of them are applicable wherever you live. And they’re all free, simple and easily accessible!

Don’t forget to wrap up warm and stay comfortable as you step outside this autumn and winter – starting with your feet.

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