Ōtepoti – Recovering from the physical and mental health effects of covid will take more than regular medicine alone.
This is why doctors around the world are giving patients green prescriptions to spend more time in nature.
Five hours a month in nature is the minimum dose in Finland, but a walk in a city park can help too.
For many people, a visit to the doctor often ends with a medication prescription. But what if a doctor prescribed a walk in the park instead of conventional medicine? Canada has become the latest nation where GPs are doing just that.
Doctors in Canadian provinces British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario are now prescribing time spent in nature and even providing patients with a pass giving a year’s access to the country’s national parks, marine conservation areas and historic sites.
The World Health Organisation describes nature as the greatest source of health and wellbeing and says it biodiversity is critical to recovery from the pandemic.
Although the mental health benefits of getting out into the great outdoors have long been recognised, green prescriptions are now being widely used to treat physical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and lung diseases.
Scientists say the health value of spending time in nature goes beyond the psychological. Research suggests contact with microbes in the environment can “train” our immune systems and reinforce the microbial communities on the skin, in airways and guts.
Researchers say that venturing out into nature has been shown to improve sleep, reduce stress and boost happiness, as well as increase attention, memory and creativity, according to the New Scientist magazine.
Doctors in New Zealand were among the first to issue green prescriptions in the late nineties, and it’s become an established part of the government’s health offering.
Clinicians in Japan have been recommending forest walking since 1982, advising patients to get out and use the country’s 3,000 miles of woodland walks. To date, $4 million has been spent promoting forest walking as a national health programme.
In the United States, the Park Rx America platform allows doctors to issue nature prescriptions at thousands of parks across the country. South Korea also encourages forest bathing to improve health and the Korean Forest Service says it provides a green welfare service.
Researchers in Canada found that adding just 10 more trees to a city block improved perceived health and wellbeing as much as increasing people’s income by $10,000 or making them seven years younger.
Covid has fuelled a parallel mental health pandemic with the two most common mental health conditions, depression and anxiety, now costing the world economy $US1 trillion annually.
With the number of city dwellers forecast to grow from half of the global population to 70 percent by 2050, giving urban dwellers more access to nature is at the heart of the World Economic Forum’s healthy cities and communities initiative.