Scottish Doctors Prescribe Bird-Watching, Walking and Other 'Nature Prescriptions'

Scottish doctors suggest strolling along a heathery hill for wellness. JoannaTkaczuk/Shutterstock

Mother Nature offers amazing benefits. A stroll in the fresh air can clear your head, relax your body and just make you feel better. Now doctors in Scotland are encouraging some patients to get outdoors for some natural medicine.

Doctors in Shetland, an archipelago of Scotland, are going to start prescribing bird-watching, taking rambling walks and picking up driftwood from the beach to help with health and well-being.

woman walking dog on beach
One suggestion is spending time walking on the beach, looking for shells or picking up driftwood. Duncan Andison/Shutterstock

The Nature Prescriptions program is a partnership between NHS Shetland and The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Scotland. According to a release about the project, "Nature Prescriptions recognizes the benefits of nature on reducing blood pressure, reducing anxiety and increasing happiness as well as the growing disconnection with nature throughout society."

Patients will be offered fliers that include suggested bird walks and calendars from RSPB, showing bird species and plants and which routes to take, reports The Guardian.

After a successful pilot program at a doctor's office in Scalloway in 2017, the program will be rolled out to all 10 general practitioner's offices throughout Shetland.

A supplemental approach

man walks in Shetland
A man rambles the hills in Shetland, Scotland. Lillian16/Shutterstock

The nature walks won't replace traditional medicine, but they'll provide a supplemental treatment, says Dr. Chloe Evans, who piloted the program.

"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," Evans said.

"The benefits to patients are that it is free, easily accessible, allows increased connection with surroundings which hopefully leads to improved physical and mental health for individuals."

woman with binoculars
Doctors recommend bird-watching or just being out in nature. Maridav/Shutterstock

Depending on the time of year, suggestions might include walking on the beach to look for shells, going bird-watching, hill walking on the moors or just standing still and quiet for a few minutes for some outdoor mindfulness.

"There is overwhelming evidence that nature has health benefits for body and mind. Shetland is 'stappit foo' [stuffed full] 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," said Karen MacKelvie, community engagement officer for RSPB Scotland.

"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."