A nature prescription is a healthcare intervention that involves recommending outdoor activities. Nature Prescriptions are recognised as a legitimate medical treatment advising people to engage in outdoor activities to improve their health and wellbeing. The idea of advising nature interactions relating to health has been around for centuries, with many cultures and traditions recognising the healing power of nature. However, it wasn't until the mid-20th century that the concept was formalized and put into practice by physicians and healthcare professionals.
One of the pioneers of nature prescriptions was Dr. Robert Zarr, a pediatrician based in Washington D.C. who founded the nonprofit organization, Park Rx America. In 2013, Dr. Zarr began prescribing park visits to his patients as a way to improve their health and wellbeing. He found that by spending time in nature, his patients experienced reduced stress levels, improved mood, and increased physical activity.
The concept of nature prescriptions has increased along with nature-wellbeing research around the world with healthcare providers and organizations recognising the benefits on human health. In 2016, the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom launched a pilot program that involved prescribing nature walks to patients with mental health conditions. The program was a success, with participants reporting reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Nature prescriptions are slowly gaining momentum in Australia as a way to improve health and wellbeing through outdoor activities and exposure to nature. The Australian Psychological Society promotes ecotherapy, and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners recommends nature prescriptions as a way to promote physical activity and reduce stress.
One organization leading the way in promoting nature for children in Australia is Nature Play SA. This non-profit organization aims to connect children with nature and promote outdoor play through a range of programs, including nature-based learning experiences, school holiday programs, and family events. Nature Play SA believes that by encouraging children to spend time in nature, they will develop a sense of awe, curiosity and wonder, leading to a lifelong love of the outdoors. Other nature-play organisations include the Children And Nature Network, and the Australian Kids in Nature Network who promote the health, wellbeing, developmental and educational benefits of children spending time in nature and the outdoors.
Nature and ecological concepts are deeply rooted in indigenous cultures which have a long history of respecting and living in harmony with the natural environment and this is reflected in cultural, spiritual beliefs, customs, traditional healing methods and dailly living practices.
This ecological worldview emphasises caring for land and all forms of life ensures the wellbeing and survival of current and future generations and recognises the importance of maintaining a healthy and diverse ecosystem for the benefit of all living entities.
The effects of disconnecting from this perspective of living in harmony with nature, as a part of nature, can be observed in several aspects of our lives, including climate change repercussions, biodiveristy loss, personal health and wellbeing, community, and social relationships. In dominant cultures, the drive for industrialisation and technological advancement has come at the expense of the natural world, leading to a loss of biodiversity, pollution, habitat destruction, and using our Earth as an infinate source of resources. However, there is growing recognition of the importance of reconnecting with nature and embracing a more sustainable and regenerative way of living and building a healthier and more resilient future. We can rediscover the inherent connectivity between us, all living things and our environment through nature-reconnecting activities and exploring our biophilia, our innate human desire to connect with nature.
Until nature prescriptions are a common healthcare intervention, outdoor activities and exposure to nature are available to everyone in some capacity. One way to connect with nature is through formal or informal practises and workshops in applied ecopsychology. Structured practises are tailored for a specific population or health concern; other times, the session may be less formal and involve activities like taking a walk outside, gardening, sitting outside, ecotherapy, practising mindfulness, and participating in therapeutic horticulture.
Ecopsychology desires to reconnect people with the sense of belonging to our natural world and promote a deeper understanding of the interconnection and interdependence between humans and our environment. By recognizing the benefits of spending time in nature and understanding the destructive effects of disconnection from nature, ecopsychology aims to promote healing and wellbeing for individuals and communities. This includes exploring the psychological and emotional benefits of spending time in natural environments, and developing practices and strategies to support individuals in reconnecting with nature.
Outdoor activities and exposure to nature are available to varying degrees for everyone, as nature prescriptions are not yet a widely adopted healthcare intervention. Those who love, appreciate and value our natural world understand the importance of preserving and considering the needs of future generations and other life-forms. These individuals form a community that recognizes the finite nature of our planet's resources and the significance of protecting and conserving them. Ecopsychology seeks to promote a sense of love and belonging with nature, cultivating a stronger desire for conservation, responsibility, and stewardship towards the environment. Ultimately, this appreciation and dedication to protecting nature are essential for ensuring a sustainable and healthy future for our planet and all inhabitants.