Nature is good medicine

Over the past decade, based on a strong and growing body of evidence, there has been a shift in understanding about the importance of nature and green spaces for the health and wellbeing of our mind, body, and soul.

Unprecedented social and environmental changes pose growing risks to people’s health and wellbeing with increasing urbanisation and changing lifestyles resulting in more people spending less time in nature, doing less physical activity, reporting higher levels of stress and feelings of social isolation. In just one generation, outdoor play time for children has more than halved.

We now know that many health conditions can be prevented or moderated though healthy, active lifestyles. There is also robust evidence that time spent in nature decreases stress and anxiety by reducing cortisol levels, lowers blood pressure, and improves mood, cognitive function, and immune system functioning. Exercising in a natural environment has also been shown to increase an individual's chance of continuing an exercise routine long-term, when compared to indoor environments such as gyms.

Health professionals worldwide are acknowledging this evidence and nature-based health interventions are becoming increasingly accepted as a tool in the prevention and management of chronic disease.

Nature-based health interventions

Nature-based health interventions are programs, activities or strategies that enable and encourage people to engage with nature through structured experiences in nature that have the specific goal of achieving improved health and wellbeing.

One type of intervention is ‘nature referrals,’ where doctors or allied health practitioners prescribe nature–based experiences for patients living with a specific health condition(s). Others include activities such as nature play, wilderness therapy/programs, ecotherapy, horticulture therapy, outdoor exercise groups, outdoor volunteering, those delivered by licensed tour operators and more

A key feature of these interventions is that each can potentially provide a multitude of physical, mental, and social health benefits. For example, nature referrals can promote physical activity leading to many positive health outcomes, while also providing patients with the mental wellbeing benefits nature can provide; and social connections that may be formed during group activities.

Fact sheets

The following fact sheets were developed specifically for health professionals to provide key information and links to some of the evidence that demonstrates the benefits of spending time in the natural environment and how activities such as regular walking, recreation and volunteering can be complementary to clinical treatments in improving patient health and wellbeing.

Parks are a wonderful setting for nature-based health interventions and Parks Victoria welcomes health and social service professionals to consider how parks can benefit patient care and community wellbeing. Programs such as Guided Park Walks, Volunteering and Citizen Science all provide a social nature-based experience.

Licensed Tour Operators may also offer activities that can support patient care.

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