There’s one medication that has no nasty side effects and for which you don’t need medical insurance: the outdoors. On October 5th, doctors in Shetland, Scotland were authorized to prescribe “nature” to assuage the symptoms of patients with ailments including high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, diabetes, stress, and heart disease.
The program comes with a leaflet outlining nature prescriptions by month. Suggestions include: “bury your face in the grass,” “notice every bird you see,” “create a rock sculpture on a beach,” and “feel the exhilaration of wind and rain on your face.” There are also location-specific suggestions, such as “walk the core path at Lunga water” and “take the coastal route to the Broch of Burraland.”
According to research in Environmental Health Perspectives, fresh air and time spent in nature can reduce blood pressure, anxiety, aggression, and ADHD symptoms, as well as improve pain control, general happiness, and the strength of your immune system.
Nature prescriptions will not replace conventional medicine, but simply supplement normal treatments. Dr. Chloe Evans, a general practitioner who ran a trial of the program in Shetland, told The Guardian, “We very much try to involve people in their own health, and people really like being empowered.” Helen Moncrieff, area manager for RSPB Scotland, added, “We would like this to be picked up by other areas or health boards. There is so much evidence that nature is good for us.”
While nature prescriptions are currently only available in Shetland, there is a movement toward natural treatments elsewhere in the UK. The NHS Forest project, for example, hopes to encourage patients to make greater use of local parks and forests near hospitals.