Accessibility – Increase Font

Share This Story

Print This Story

A prescription for the outdoors from your GP or nurse practitioner may improve your health, according to research.

UNSW Sydney researchers have found that ‘nature prescriptions’ – a recommendation to spend time in nature – provided both physical and mental health benefits

The researchers analysed 28 studies that tested nature prescriptions and their ability to improve health in real-world patients.

The systematic review and meta-analysis, published in The Lancet Planetary Health, found that patients had reduced blood pressure, as well as lower depression and anxiety scores – and they had a higher daily step count.

“The evidence shows that nature prescriptions can help to restore and build capacities for better physical and mental health.

“What we need now is to work out how to make nature prescriptions happen in a sustained way for those people with high potential to benefit, but who currently spend little time in nature,” said co-lead researcher Professor Xiaoqi Feng from UNSW Medicine & Health.

Nature makes us healthier

Contact with nature reduces harms, including those from poor air quality, heatwaves, and chronic stress, while encouraging healthy behaviours such as socialising and physical activity. This can help to prevent issues including loneliness, depression and cardiovascular disease.

“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,” said Professor Feng.

Living close to certain types of green space can improve health, previous research has shown. In a study of almost 47,000 adults in New South Wales, those living in areas with 30% or more tree canopy reported better general health and reduced psychological distress. The research informed the City of Sydney’s $377 million strategy to reach 40% green cover by 2050.

Photo courtesy: Brett Sayles

“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,” said Professor Feng.

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

Nature prescriptions are emerging as a supplement to standard medical care. The UK Government recently invested £5.77 million in a pilot program for ‘green social prescribing’ and Canada has a national nature prescription program.

In Australia there is growing public interest in nature prescriptions with more than 80% of Australian adults in a recent survey receptive to the idea. However, there are no large-scale nature prescription programs in Australia yet. More research is needed to understand how nature prescriptions could be implemented in our local context, said Professor Feng.

“If we want nature prescriptions to become a national scheme, we really need to provide the evidence.”

It was also important for nature prescriptions to be accessible to all Australians, he said.

“We don’t want nature prescriptions to be a luxury item for the rich who already have access to beaches and a lot of high-quality green space. We want these benefits for everyone.”