NATURE SCRIPTS ARE JUST THE TONIC
GPS trial benefits of nature
THEY say an apple a day keeps the doctor away – but moves are afoot to see whether a walk in the park might be just as effective.
Doctors prescribing their patients time immersed in nature is common in countries such as the US and UK.
Now, Green Adelaide is partnering with the Appleton Institute to host a trial of “nature prescriptions”, through sessions encouraging people to spend more time outdoors to improve their wellbeing.
Doctors will provide referrals to the program, which includes face-to-face and Zoom sessions talking participants through their barriers to spending time outdoors.
The program will link them with activities and also offer a “forest bathing” session in the Adelaide Botanic Gardens.
Green Adelaide team leader community liaison Dr Robyn Molsher said if the trial was successful, it could lead to nature prescriptions becoming more heavily integrated in our healthcare system.
“There’s evidence of the benefits of nature contact for mental health and that became increasingly evident during the COVID lockdown,” she said.
“Ultimately it’s raising awareness of the benefits of contact with nature not just for the environment but the human health benefits as well.
“People who are more connected with nature are more likely to want to conserve it, so there’s an environmental stewardship side of it too.”
Nature prescriptions can take various forms, Dr Molsher said, such as doctors referring patients to people who help connect them with activities, or linking them up with apps they use to “check in” to local parks.
Green Adelaide is looking for up to 60 people for its trial, which will focus on those with moderate diabetes, pre-diabetes, obesity, anxiety, depression or low mood.
Dr Katya Glogovska said she had already prescribed extra time outdoors for several of her patients who reported symptoms of depression and anxiety.
She heard about nature prescriptions from a Us-based doctor.
“He quoted his own study that showed he was able to reduce the rates of obesity and improve mental health in children and that inspired me to do a similar thing in my practice,” she said.
Dr Glogovska has helped patients plan ways to spend time more time outdoors, doing activities such as playing ball games, bushwalking and volunteering.
Mark Morgan, chair of The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners’ Expert Committee – Quality Care, said the trial was a form of social prescribing, in which doctors or nurses link patients with a non-medical organisation, such as a men’s shed, community garden or park run. “There’s a huge amount to be gained in Australia through models of social prescribing and it’s a really important part of the toolkit of GPS,” he said.