Hi everyone, I have two questions for you:
1. "Have you been outside yet today?”
2. “Have you been outside in nature in the last week to walk, hike, play with a pet, listen to birds, garden, or have a picnic?” (1)
If you answered "no" to both these questions you may need a prescription for a nature pill! Don't worry I haven't completely gone off my rocker...it's actually a thing, sometimes also called Nature Therapy, Green Medicine or Green Prescriptions.
"Nature therapy is a new evidence-based field in medicine defined as the prescriptive, evidence-based use of natural settings and nature-based interventions." (1) Health professionals are starting to prescribe nature therapy in very specific ways. This is not brand new. When I was working as a Dietitian in the UK in the early 2000's both GPs and allied health professional were starting to use Green Prescriptions. The idea behind it is if you can be very specific about the type of outdoors activity and have it written down as a prescription from a health professional you might be more likely to view it as important as taking a medication. I think that is the crux of it, we just don't view spending time in nature as being that important. But what if spending time in nature was as impactful as taking a medication?
Intuitively, we know that it feels good to spend time outdoors, especially in nature. To back this up there is a building body of scientific evidence that have found the following benefits of spending regular time in nature albeit with variable levels of scientific evidence: (2)
greater happiness, well-being and life satisfaction
reduced ADHD symptoms
increased social connectedness
lower blood pressure
improved post-operative recovery
improved birth outcomes
improved congestive heart failure
improved child development (cognitive and motor)
improved pain control
improved immune function
Wow! Hands up if you have any needs on that list...(me, me!)
I don't know about you but I certainly find going for a walk outside amongst greenery very soothing on my eyes if I've been doing computer work. I feel refreshed, in a better mood and am breathing more deeply again. However, it is very easy to go a whole day and not properly get outside at all. We may even be regular exercisers but because the exercise is indoors we have even less time to get outside. I certainly noticed this recently, because even though I do Pilates regularly, it's indoors. So I've made it a priority to go for walk outside every day (unless it's chucking it down with rain!) even if it's just for 20-30 minutes as this has been shown to be the optimum time to reduce cortisol levels. (3)
I don't have a spare 30 mins every day, what can I do?
The good news is you don't even have to spend this long outdoors to reap some benefit. John La Puma suggests spending 5 minutes in nature combined with the following grounding technique is a fantastic way to reset our focus, improve productivity and creativity.
Grounding (54321) Technique:
Find somewhere in nature to sit or walk slowly. Take a deep belly breath to begin. As you go through the senses acknowledge the things you notice by really focusing on each one for a few seconds:
5 - LOOK: Look around for 5 things that you can see. For example, I see the trees, I see the clouds, I see the bird.
4 - FEEL: Pay attention to your body and think of 4 things that you can feel. For example, I feel the wind on my face, I feel my feet in my shoes, I feel tightness in my shoulders.
3 - LISTEN: Listen for 3 sounds. It could be the sound of wind blowing through trees, the sound of birds or the sound of your own breathing.
2 - SMELL: Find and focus on two things you can smell. It could be the smell of flowers, the smell of the ocean, the smell of cut grass.
1 - TASTE: Say one thing you can taste. It may be the toothpaste from brushing your teeth, or a coffee. If you can’t taste anything, then focus on your favourite thing to taste.
Take another deep belly breath to end.
Enjoy grounding yourself in nature and reap the benefits.
1. La Puma, J. (2019) Nature Therapy: An Essential Prescription for Health. Alternative and Complementary Therapies 25(2) http://doi.org/10.1089/act.2019.29209.jlp
2. Frumkin, H., et al. (2017). Nature Contact and Human Health: A Research Agenda. Environmental health perspectives, 125(7), 075001. doi: 10.1289/EHP1663
3. Hunter, M.R., Gillespie, B.W., Chen, S.Y. (2019). Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers. Frontiers in Psychology doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00722