The great outdoors

MINIMALISM, SUSTAINABILITY

Did you know that in the UK alone, 11.7 million working days are lost annually due to stress, depression or anxiety – but that this could be helped by something as simple as spending more time in nature?

In 2018, a report from the University of East Anglia revealed how exposure to greenspace significantly reduces the risk of a number of illnesses, such as type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and stress – and that populations with higher levels of general greenspace exposure are more likely to report good overall health.

In the report, “greenspace” is defined as open, undeveloped land with natural vegetation, together with urban greenspaces, such as urban parks and street greenery – meaning that you don’t have to take a trip to the countryside every time you want some peace of mind. Doing something as simple as taking a walk in the greener areas of town, will literally do wonders for your health. But what’s even more amazing than the actual health benefits of visiting your favourite park, is the fact that more people than ever before are spending time in nature! Recent national statistics published by Natural England show that the proportion of UK adults visiting nature at least once a week has gone up from 54% to 62% over the past 8 years.

And no wonder people are drawn to the great outdoors, as the previously mentioned study from the University of East Anglia also shows proof of time spent in nature significantly reduces the levels of stress hormones in our bodies. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I can wholeheartedly relate to that!

Personally, I’m very privileged to live in a place where I literally have miles upon miles of magnificent views on my very doorstep. The North East of Scotland is such a beautiful place, and to me there’s nothing more calming than walking the hills and the moors, or being entirely surrounded by thick, green woodland. In fact, much of the research coming from Japan (where so called “Forest Bathing” is a really popular form of therapy) suggest that some of the health boosting properties of spending time in the forest could be explained by the trees releasing organic compounds with antibacterial properties, called phytoncides. How totally cool and awesomely weird is that?

Another place where they’ve adopted the belief of the healing powers of nature is on the Shetland Isles. For almost six months now, a number of GP practices across Shetland have been able to issue “Nature Prescriptions” to patients with chronic and debilitating illnesses, with the hope that nature will help them get better.

The pioneering initiative was created by a team-up between NHS Shetland and RSPB Scotland, resulting in patients with illnesses such as mental illness, diabetes, stress and heart disease are being prescribed a number of nature-related activities in order to help them cope with their conditions. The activities can range from bird watching to hill and beach walking – and are accompanied with printed leaflets providing the patients with helpful lists of walks, as well as calendars telling them where on the island and during what time of the year one can see particular bird species and plants.

I am no way anti-medicine or anti-vaccine, but I genuinely believe in nature’s power to help us heal. What are your thoughts on the subject – and do you think Shetlanders, with their “Nature Prescriptions”, are on to something?