Borrow a dog, climb a hill, make a daisy chain, hunt for otter poo and stick your face in the grass. Apply these liberally several times a month and you should soon feel much better.
It may sound like a strange set of instructions, but all of these could be part of the treatment doled out by doctors in the far north of Scotland as part of a pioneering new initiative being rolled out at surgeries in Shetland to boost the physical and mental health of local people.
‘Nature prescriptions’ have already been successfully trialled on patients in the town of Scalloway. Now they are being offered at all 10 GP practices across the region.
It’s thought the ground-breaking scheme is the first of its kind in the UK.
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Doctors have welcomed the therapy, which they hope can reduce the reliance on medication for some patients.
Dr Chloe Evans, a GP at Scalloway Health Centre, is very enthusiastic about the treatment, which she believes is useful for a wide array of situations – from helping alleviate physical ailments to aiding life changes such as stopping smoking or losing weight and combating social isolation across all age groups.
She said: “I want to take part because the project provides a structured way for patients to access nature as part of a non-drug approach to health problems.
“The benefits to patients are that it is free, easily accessible and allows increased connection with surroundings, which hopefully leads to improved physical and mental health for individuals.”
The benefits of physical activity are well documented. Regular exercise reduces the risk of heart disease, strokes, diabetes, cancers, depression, anxiety and sleep problems.
But an increasing body of evidence shows people with strong connections to nature are happier and have better mental and physical health than those who don’t.
With its dramatic landcapes and internationally important wildlife, Shetland is an ideal place to get the full benefits of the holistic remedy.
It comes in the form of a calendar of seasonal activities, with advice on how to make the most of the outdoors.
Nature prescriptions will be handed out at the discretion of individual doctors.
The material was created by conservation charity RSPB Scotland, which runs nature reserves around Shetland.
“There is overwhelming evidence that nature has health benefits for body and mind,” said Karen MacKelvie, a community engagement officer for RSPB Scotland.
“Shetland is ‘stappit foo’ of natural wonders. Whenever you open your front door you can hear or see some kind of natural delight – be it a gull or a lapwing calling or the roll of a heathery hill.
“However, despite many doctors using the outdoors as a resource to combat ill-health, far fewer recommend the same strategy to their patients.
“So we saw an opportunity to design a leaflet that helps doctors describe the health benefits of nature and provides plenty of local ideas to help doctors fire-up their patients’ imaginations and get them outdoors.
“It has been a delight to work in partnership with GPs on this and it’s great for us because we get to help connect people with nature that we wouldn’t normally see at our reserves, events or on our guided walks. Helping people connect with nature is a great way to inspire them to protect it.”
Lauren Peterson, health improvement practitioner for NHS Shetland, added: “The fantastic leaflet resource, which has been produced by RSPB Scotland, assists in highlighting the many benefits which are to be gained from being outdoors in the natural environment.
“It also provides inspiration in the forms of different ideas of what to do out in the fresh air.”