Turns out Hippocrates might have been on to something all those years ago when he said, “nature itself is the best physician”. In fact, there’s evidence that nature could also be an effective treatment to help improve our mental health and physical wellbeing.

A treatment that is free, easy to access and with virtually no side effects sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? With that in mind, it’s completely reasonable to wonder why everyone isn’t jumping at the chance to go outside whenever they are in poor health. Part of that might be due to a lack of awareness. And other times, a spoonful of science might be required to help nature’s medicine go down.

That’s where researchers from Australia’s University of New South Wales come in. The team assessed 28 international studies that looked at the efficacy of prescribing “nature prescriptions”. A comprehensive meta-analysis involving real-world patients found that physical and mental health benefits could be attributed to prescribed time in nature.

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

Professor Xiaoqi Feng, UNSW Medicine & Health

Some of the benefits include reductions in negative effects associated with chronic stress and poor air quality, whilst simultaneously promoting healthy activities like physical activity and socialisation. Second order effects included improved cardiovascular health and decreased levels of depression and loneliness.

Armed with compelling evidence, the next challenge is to bring nature prescriptions into everyday conversations and to a wider audience of vest stakeholders and policy makers. See, time in nature is fast becoming a viable supplement to traditional medical treatments in regions like the UK, but more research is required before other countries, including Australia, develop and roll out their own programs. For example, quantifying just how much time should be spent in nature is still a moving target with no firm answer – and unknown standards are difficult to build upon.

That said, previous research show that general population appears very open to the idea. And with the future backing of the government, your next stop on the way home from the doctors might be to the park, and not the pharmacist.

Check out the complete meta-analysis, which is currently open access, at the link below.

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