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Are Nature Prescriptions Coming to Australia?

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Doctor’s Orders: Connecting with Nature for Increased Physical and Mental Well-being

Nature Prescription-Bottle Brush Pool by Maryse Jansen
Bottle Brush Pool

Have you ever been given a nature prescription?

Do you struggle with chronic health issues like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, depression or anxiety? Or do you just feel a bit low in energy and/or mood? What are traditionally the solutions your doctor would give you to feel better? Has your doctor ever given you a nature prescription?? Probably not, unless you live in a few select countries that have begun to embrace this in their health system. Or perhaps, in Australia for example, you may have received this as part of a trial or research setting.

A nature prescription literally prescribes you to spend more time in nature in some form or duration. It has been known for a long time that spending time in nature is good for you. Numerous scientific studies back this up. And yet, the idea of nature prescriptions in the health system is still foreign…

Check out some other posts related to the benefits of spending time in nature here.

Professor Astell-Burt from the University of Woollongong Australia said: “Contact with nature has well-documented mental, physical and social health benefits. Our national survey indicates 72 per cent of physically inactive Australians aged over 45 years with cardiometabolic diseases would accept a nature prescription, yet there are none on offer.”

How would you feel about this new type of treatment?

Think about it for a moment: a new type of treatment that is pleasant, widely available for free or at low cost and side effects tend to be positive. Would you be interested?

I would be! I discovered nature’s healing capacities for myself, at a time when a doctor suggested I might want to take some anti-depressants. I began to read about these medications and their side-effects and I decided there had to be another way.

From my own research of the literature I concluded that exercising, being outdoors, eating healthy and sleeping well are the key factors of self care that we need and they are all promoted by spending some active time in nature. The sunlight helps us begin to reconnect with our circadian rhythm (so we sleep better), we discover that being in nature makes us feel good (our mood improves), we are physically active which induces a healthy appetite, better sleep and a better mood. It turns out that regularly going for a walk in nature is possibly the best thing you can do! So that’s what I prescribed myself and I quickly discovered that it worked!

What if I’m not fit enough to go on a nature walk?

‘But what if I’m not physically fit enough to go on a walk?’, you might wonder. Don’t worry, spending time in nature doesn’t have to be strenuous. There are many options for all fitness levels. Anything between mulltiple-day long distance walks for the young and super fit who like a challenge, all the way down to a little walk around your own backyard. Each of us can benefit at our own level.

How to get even more benefit from our time in nature

While we all know that physical exercise is good for our health, it’s not just about that. Doing it in nature has many extra benefits, especially when we pay attention to our surroundings:

Take your time and stop often. Take a closer look and marvel at the interesting things you can find along your path. Stop to enjoy a beautiful view. Take a photo to bring the memory home. Keep a nature journal and write and draw about the things you see. Sit down at a suitable spot and have a healthy snack and/or a drink of water. Lean up against a tree, close your eyes for a while and listen to the sounds around you. Notice the smells. Feel the breeze on your skin. Engage all your senses!!

Then, think for a moment about the healthier air you are breathing, compared to being in a busy city street where there are no or few trees. Become aware of the trees filtering that air for you. Think about how the trees and plants around you soak up rainwater, preventing flooding and erosion. Think about how they provide shade and shelter and cool the environment.

Think about how they provide food, for a number of animals and perhaps even for us. How they provide a home for many creatures. Maybe you can even spot some of the inhabitants or visitors: a Rainbow Lorikeet nesting in a hollow of the tree, a koala dozily sleeping in the fork of a large branch, a butterfly or a bee moving on from flower to flower. Or look even closer and see a little skink hiding in the bark, a caterpillar munching on a leaf and ants crawling on the trunk.

When you take the time to engage your senses and become aware of all of these things, you will find that your appreciation will grow and you will also begin to notice more and more details. Isn’t that exciting? Appreciation as well as excitement are positive feelings that release feel-good hormones in your body. Experiences like these will stir up an intrinsic motivation to go again and again. Perfect! Because the more we do it, the better it is for us!

Bronzewing by Maryse Jansen

Will the Nature Prescription come to Australia?

From the research it is clear that nature provides a low/no cost opportunity in chronic disease management and can aid in increases in physical activity and reductions in stress and loneliness. More research is being done on how to best implement the Nature Prescription in the Australian Health System. But, in the meantime, this is something you can easily do for yourself, just like I did! Whether you suffer from any chronic health conditions or whether you want to be on a path to prevent those, get yourself out there and connect with nature! You will be grateful that you did!

I’m not in Australia and in my country this is not (yet) done either, now what?

The good news is, it doesn’t matter where in the world you are. You can do this anywhere! Your patch of nature might look vastly different from mine but it’s nature in all it’s glory. You can apply the same practices that I have described above and discover the beauty and interesting things around you! I would love to hear about what you discover!

If you need a little inspiration, encouragement, are curious about seeing places that you can’t get to yourself or simply just can’t get enough, do not despair! Come for a virtual walk with me in the Australian Bush, where I explore an area each episode. And whether it’s a new area, or one that we’ve visited before, there is always something interesting to discover! To show a variety of options I include more difficult walks in stunning National Parks as well as easy strolls in urban parklands. For a full playlist of all episodes click here.

Today we will indulge ourselves with a walk in Crows Nest National Park. This park in south-east Queensland rewards us with stunning views, running water, amazing wildlife and beautiful wildflowers!

About the images

The images that illustrate this article were also taken during this walk. The featured image ‘Bottle Bush Pool’ is a beautiful rock pool. The shore is lined with Bottle Brush Trees and granite rocks. In the water a lone Little Pied Cormorant is fishing. It is a very peaceful scene and the perfect place to rest during a walk and immerse your senses in nature! If you are interested in purchasing a print of ‘Bottle Brush Pool’ or would like to see what the image looks like on the various merchandise products, please head to my shop.

If you’d prefer ‘Bronzewing’, the other image in this post, click shop here. A Bronzewing is a beautiful and quite shy pigeon, so it is quite special to see one! Notice the stunning metallic multi-coloured patches on the wings, especially visible in the sunlight, and a characteristic white stripe below and around the eyes. Spotting birds and listening to bird sound specifically are aspects of nature that have been proven to have a positive effect on people’s mood and well-being! So when you go outside, keep an eye and an ear out for our feathered friends!

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