In Sweden, unwinding in the outdoors is considered a national treasure. And it’s spreading: GPs in Shetland now hand out RSPB leaflets alongside prescriptions.
A patient who regularly goes out walking along Shetland’s coastline specifically to improve his mental health recently described an encounter with nature. He slipped and fell in the mud on a cliff top. Lying on his back, thankfully unhurt, but cursing his bad luck, he noticed the cloud patterns in the sky, and spent a high quality quarter of an hour watching what went by directly above him. It is what you make of it.
Chances are, being connected to the natural world around us makes us healthier and happier. Quite apart from how much more physically active we might be while doing this, there appear to be benefits to health and well-being specifically from connecting with the natural world.
In Sweden, they call unwinding in the outdoors Friluftsliv, and consider it a national treasure. If you read about it, you’ll find people trying to carefully define what counts as this deep connection with nature and what doesn’t. Defining it is important, because, apart from there being some competition with Norway over ownership of the notion, there is a recognition that it probably plays a part in what makes their society function the way it does. As a rule of thumb, if it makes you feel better it’s probably working. But if a nation values this kind of behaviour, and government resources used to promote it, then it is easier to get a consensus if you can prove its worth.
Proving its worth is fiendishly difficult. In these days of evidence-based medicine, we feel more comfortable directing public resources to an intervention if there are research trials proving that it works. Comparing outcomes between people who engage with nature and those who don’t is loaded with confounding variables.
That said, the research that has been done suggests that seeking a positive interaction with the natural world can improve outcomes for conditions like anxiety and hypertension, and it probably gives people who are well a better experience of life.
In Shetland, there’s a lot of nature with which to engage, and RSPB Scotland have made available to us some materials for encouraging people to do it. As GPs, we have leaflets for patients who we feel might be helped by finding a connection with nature. I have a pile of them on my desk, and am pleased to be handing them out.
We are encouraged to go out, pay attention to what is living and growing, watch the landscape and light, and notice what the weather does to it, or a change in season, or a different time of day or height of the tide. The leaflets have some suggestions as to how people might successfully connect with their surroundings in a beneficial way.
Frequently, the resolution of some distracting difficulty has come to me whilst outside thinking about something else. We’re lucky here, as nature is outside our …read more
Source:: New Statesman