Yes! It turns out that Scotland is already taking the lead on having MDs actually prescribe time in nature. While we constantly hear about the benefits of being physically active, research is showing that time spent outdoors can be an excellent treatment for chronic health issues, both physical and mental. So, Scottish doctors are now allowed and encouraged to include official “nature prescriptions” as part of an initiative to address many health issues. Some of the latest research highlights improved concentration, better coping skills and resilience as well as increased creativity after time spent outdoors. (SHIFT public health and public lands conference, 2018)
Our current lifestyle has us spending too much time indoors, in fact statistics show that the average American spends around 10 hours per day on screen time. As veterans, the task to stay physically active is many times limited by lack of time, family duties and the demands of school and work, which can also limit the time spent outside. Even through the business of life, the effort to make time for outdoor activities is really worth it. Research specifically conducted with veterans has also highlighted the benefits of participating in outdoor activities. Dustin, Bricker, Arave and Wall (2011), examined the effects of a “river running” (kayaking) and camping experience with veterans in Colorado. They found that the outdoor experience had resulted in PTSD symptom reduction, for both the hyperarousal symptom cluster as well as for the avoidance and numbing symptom clusters. Participants shared that the usual feelings of hyperarousal were counteracted by the effects of the physical activity and that the peaceful outdoor surroundings led to feelings of calmness.
Our own Weld County has started an initiative to improve all the local trails and improve access to outdoor physical activity. Trails within Greeley are quite popular, did you know that the Poudre Trail here in Greeley has over 113,000 users a year? Because of this, there is a current plan to improve access to all the trails and renovating the local parks, with support from people in public health, medical, educational and exercise organizations. So maybe a formal prescription of outdoor experiences will be a reality sooner than we think for us.
While hiking in the Scottish Highlands or forest bathing in Japan may not be our immediate options, we should try to take advantage of the fact that we live in a beautiful state with many outdoor parks and open spaces that provide opportunities to walk, hike, bike or just take a pause and some fresh air. Both Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park are a little over an hour away from Greeley, and offer various hiking trails from east to intense. Gather a group of friends together and plan a healing hiking trip in the beautiful Rocky Mountains that Colorado has to offer.
Even if we do not have the opportunity to go to the Rocky Mountains all the time, we can still step outside, walk to our next class or just around the block. Our campus even has pretty great outdoor spots! Hopefully soon, we can go take a hike on Dr.´s orders.