For the first time, primary health doctors in Shetland Islands, United Kingdom, have started prescribing prescribing birdwatching, rambling and beach walks in the Atlantic winds to help treat chronic and debilitating illnesses.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, or RSPB, which is a local nature conservation charity in Scotland, and the local health board in the Shetlands have partnered with doctors and created a special calendar of specific outdoor activities that the doctors could prescribe their patients for treatment. They call the initiative “Nature Prescriptions”.
These ‘nature prescriptions’ like birdwatching, hill walking, drawing snowdrops, beach combing for shells are seen as great treatments for medical conditions like mental illness, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, stress and other conditions.
“There is overwhelming evidence that nature has health benefits for body and mind,” Karen MacKelvie, a community engagement officer for RSPB Scotland, told the BBC. “Despite many doctors using the outdoors as a resource to combat ill-health, far fewer recommend the same strategy to their patients. So, we saw an opportunity to design a leaflet that helps doctors describe the health benefits of nature and provides plenty of local ideas to help doctors fire-up their patients’ imaginations and get them outdoors.”
Dr. Chloe Evans, a general practitioner at Scalloway Health Centre in Scalloway, Shetland, was thrilled to take part in this initiative. “There are millions of different ways of doing medicine but we very much try to involve people in their own health, and people really like being empowered,” Evans told The Guardian.
“People are always thinking at some level about their diet or exercise or stopping smoking but finding out what works for them is the key. The beauty about Shetland is it has this fantastic wild landscape.”
The calendar of specific outdoor activities includes tasks for every month of the year, which includes tasks like outdoor dining with family, providing a nest box and nesting materials for birds, “appreciating” a cloud. A particular task in the month of August is to “Turn o’er a rock and see what you see.”
The calendar is available in a PDF format which can be accessed online at HealthyShetland.com.
According to researcher Danielle Shanahan, “If everyone visited their local parks for half an hour each week there would be seven per cent fewer cases of depression and nine percent fewer cases of high blood pressure”.
Helen Moncrieff, the area manager for RSPB Scotland, said that the prescriptions during winter would be “elemental”, where strong Atlantic winds would be the main feature.
“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, and this is a simple way to get people outdoors and experiencing nature in a city or a wilder place like Shetland,” she said.
Time to get that calendar and get outdoors!