‘Nature prescriptions’ are proving to be an effective way to improve physical and mental health, according to a systematic review and meta-analysis of 28 studies by researchers from the University of New South Wales.
In the review, people who received nature prescriptions – that’s where a doctor instructs you to go out in nature for a specific amount of time, usually with the purpose of improving physical or mental health – showed reduced blood pressure, lower depression and anxiety scores, and increased daily step count. The studies were mostly from South Korea, the United States and Japan and the ‘intervention’ – the nature spaces people were instructed to go to – were most often forests and national parks, then smaller parks and community gardens. The study, published in The Lancet Planetary Health 1, also found that contact with nature reduces harm from poor air quality, heatwaves, and chronic stress while encouraging healthy behaviours such as socialising and physical activity.
The authors say that nature prescriptions are being viewed as a supplement to standard medical care, with pilot programs for “green social prescribing” already launched in the UK, while Canada has a national nature prescription program. But it isn’t a thing in Australia yet, with no large-scale nature prescription programs available. These researchers argue that we need to better understand how such programs could be implemented in the local context and answer questions around the length and content of the prescription, how to deliver it, and who should deliver it. But if implemented effectively, nature prescriptions could become a national scheme providing benefits for all Australians, not just those who already have access to high-quality green space.
- Nguyen, P.-Y., Astell-Burt, T., Rahimi-Ardabili, H., & Feng, X. Effect of nature prescriptions on cardiometabolic and mental health, and physical activity: a systematic review. The Lancet Planetary Health, Vol 7, Issue 4. April 2023. Available from https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(23)00025-6/fulltext