The Rise of the Nature Prescription
By: Annie Daly
Published: April 09, 2019
Not too long ago, going to the doctor meant that there was a very high chance that you would leave with a prescription for some sort of pill or antibiotic or bright pink liquid cough syrup that sort of tasted like candy but mostly tasted disgusting.
These days, though, there’s a new medicine in town—and it certainly does not come in a pill bottle. Nope, doctors are now offering prescriptions to…nature. Yes, that’s right, nature. Doctors are literally telling their patients to get outside and take a walk, breathe in some nature, and hang out with the trees.
And they’re not wrong.
There’s a rising body of research in the U.S. and around the world that shows that spending time with Mother Earth can help you feel healthier, happier, and more alive on a regular basis. In fact, there’s even a wellness philosophy in Japan called shinrin-yoku— which translates to “forest bathing”—that’s all about this nature effect, and it’s been making its way stateside in the past year or so. The act of “forest bathing” isn’t about taking an actual bath in the trees, but rather, slowing down and using all of your senses to truly immerse yourself in nature so that you feel as though you are actually a part of your surroundings. Doing so helps you feel more present in the moment, and therefore more present in nature—which in turn has a huge positive impact on your health and wellbeing. In Japan, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries is so on board with this philosophy that they even encourage their citizens to visit forests as often as possible to relieve stress and improve their overall health. And now the U.S. is adopting the “forest bathing” prescription too. There are now “forest bathing” retreats, “forest bathing” classes at wellness hotels across the country—and numerous books being published on the subject every month.
The best part of all? The research shows that healing effect of “forest bathing” is both physical and mental, so it’s a positive 360-degree win all around.
One Dutch study, for example, found that people who live within a half mile of green space have a lower incidence of diseases, like depression, anxiety, heart disease, and more. Another study found that people living on streets with trees had better metabolic health than those living on streets without trees. Still more research has found that people who performed tasks surrounded by nature did a better, higher-quality job than those who did the task in a more urban setting. Nature can help improve your mood, lower your blood pressure, and give you a cognitive boost, not to mention decrease your stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline bigtime. One study even found that patients in hospitals recover sooner if they have a green space to look at outside of their window than those who don’t have a nature view. Translation? Even just sitting and looking at trees can have a calming effect on your soul—no actual exercise required.
There are so many of these nature studies, it’s hard to keep track, but the overall conclusion is clear across the board: Spending time with Mother Earth is one of the best things you can possibly do for your health. Of course, the only problem is: What if you live in a very urban environment, like New York and Los Angeles, where there aren’t exactly huge, green forests right in your backyard?
Fear not—all is not lost.
“Forest bathing” practitioners say that you don’t have to go all Henry David Thoreau and live a full-on transcendental life to get the effect. Turns out, spending time in urban parks is totally fine, too, as is walking along your street if it happens to be covered in trees. The point is that humans are creatures of nature, and we need to do everything we can to honor that connection on a day-to-day basis. With all of the technology and the Netflix and the Seamless and the indoor everything, it’s easier than ever to lose our connection to Mother Earth—but a word of advice? Don’t. Do everything in your power to avoid this fate. Make it a huge priority to get yourself into nature for at least 20 minutes every day, whatever that may look like for you. Perhaps that means stepping off the treadmill at your local gym and taking your three-mile run outside, even if it’s not super nice out. Or maybe it means getting your friends together to take a group fitness class or a bootcamp class in the park, rather than taking one indoors. You can even ask your personal trainer to exercise with you outside. Night walks are a solid option, too. If you live near a park, try taking a walk after dinner to go hang out with the trees and the stars instead of the latest Netflix special.
If you want to truly take it to the next level, you could even consider moving to a spot that’s closer to nature when your lease is up—it’s that important. If that’s not possible, though, try hanging some photos of nature on your walls, or making your computer desktop a big collage of green trees. Sure, it’s not totally the same thing, but studies have shown that people who simply look at scenes of nature are less stressed than those who don’t—so it’s worth trying to see how it works for you.
The point is that we all need to push spending time in nature to the top of our priority list. Whatever you can do to make it happen, do it—it’s worth it. Your mind, body, and soul will thank you. And you’d better believe that Mother Nature will welcome you with open (and very green) arms.