Why ‘going bush’ might be just what the doctor ordered

Spending time outdoors has long been recognised as good for the mind, body and soul. So much so, some experts are calling for nature prescriptions.

You might think “medication” when you hear “prescription”, but in some parts of the world, doses of nature are being prescribed, too.

While doctors in Canada can now prescribe national park visits, the UK government rolled out a green social prescribing program in 2020 which links people into nature-based activities.

And according to a review of 28 studies performed by researchers from UNSW Sydney, nature prescriptions deliver genuine benefits.

“This study is built upon a long-term program of research that we are doing, where we show contact with nature – and trees especially – is really good for strengthening mental and physical health across our lives,” the study’s lead author, Professor Xiaoqi Feng, says.

“But, even if you have a high-quality green space like a park nearby, it doesn’t mean that everyone will visit and benefit from it.

“How can we encourage and enable people to (re)connect with nature?
“That’s where the idea of a nature prescription comes in.”

How to write your own nature prescription

While a recent survey shows eight out of 10 Australian adults would be open to receiving a nature prescription, an official prescription program is yet to be established, with more research required to understand how nature prescriptions could be implemented locally.

In the meantime, here’s a few ideas to help make nature work for your health and wellbeing.

Try to clock up 120 nature-soaked minutes a week

According to a UK study it’s spending at least two hours a week in nature that may be the crucial threshold for promoting health and wellbeing – and it doesn’t matter whether the time is accrued in one or two nature sessions or over multiple shorter ones.

Grab 10 minutes outdoors whenever you’re stressed

US research shows a small amount of exposure to a natural setting, even if it’s just sitting in a neighbourhood green space, can lessen the effects of both physical and mental stress and improve mood.

Pay attention to nature’s noises

Part of the reason natural surrounds can be so beneficial is the way they sound, with one study showing how nature noises physically alter the body’s nervous system and the brain’s resting activity, which explains why nature helps us feel more relaxed.

So when you are amongst nature, listen to its sounds instead of tuning into a phone call, music or a podcast.

Put nature documentaries on your watch list

And take the time to watch them, after researchers at the UK’s University of Exeter discovered watching high-quality nature programmes can reduce negative emotions and boost wellbeing.

Take part in nature-based ‘citizen science’ projects

Professor Craig Williams from the University of South Australia says it could be one antidote to mass urbanisation.

“As cities grow, fewer people have access to natural environments, which is part of the reason urban living can be bad for your health,” Prof Williams says.

“Nature-based citizen science projects can motivate people to engage with natural environments.

“And if they can be orchestrated, organised and promoted in cities – particularly as part of a public health policy – then we have the potential to improve people’s health through that mechanism.”

Nature-based citizen science projects to consider getting involved with include Australia’s biggest frog count, FrogID Week, the Aussie Bird Count and Birds in Backyards.

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Written by Karen Fittall.