On the remote Shetland Islands—a British archipelago in the North Sea about halfway between the UK and Norway—residents can now take a dog for a walk on the beach or bird watch in a wildlife preserve and literally say, "It's just what the doctor ordered."
According to BBC News, primary care doctors (or GPs) in Shetland have just launched a project called Nature Prescriptions, where they are instructing patients to get outside and tune in to Mother Nature and the seasonal wheel of the year as a way to combat chronic illness, including stress and mental health issues.
Created in partnership with the Royal Society of Birds Scotland (RSPB), leaflets outlining the outdoor wellness ideas are now available at 10 public doctor's offices around Shetland. The "Nature Prescriptions" calendar is laid out in a monthly checklist format, and is also downloadable for free and accessible worldwide in PDF form from HealthyShetland.com.
"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," Dr. Chloe Evans, a general practitioner at a health center in the island whose practice first piloted the initiative last year, told the BBC. "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."
Some of our favorite ideas to copy onto your own annual wellness bucket list include:
- Playing like an eight year old
- Borrow a dog and take it for a walk, play some games
- Touch the sea
- Get outside "whatever the weather" and "feel the exhilaration of wind and rain on your face"
- Plant bulbs, flowers, or trees
- Keep a journal of your new adventures
- Go on a clean-up walk, picking up litter along a trail or a beach
- Identify the types of clouds in the sky
- Go geocaching and hunt for treasure
- Explore a natural wonder or nature preserve that you've never been to before
- Sit cross-legged and close your eyes and listen to the sounds
- Talk to the birds by copying their birdsongs
- Follow a bumblebee
- Go camping
- Turn over a rock and see what you see
- Skip mowing your yard and see what "minibeasts" take up residence
- Make a daisy chain
- Volunteer with a conservation effort
- Write your worries on a stone and toss it into a body of water
- Go whale watching or otter-watching
- "Re-wild" one of your senses by smelling everything in nature
- Talk to a pony
- Look back on your year and recognize how far you have come
It's no secret that spending more time outside is better for our health, especially as an increasing number of studies quantify the increased benefits, like boosts to our creativity and stress reduction as well as longer lives overall. The Scottish project is just the latest in a movement to find indoor/outdoor balance, as more and more government agencies and companies—such as Amazon and L.L. Bean—work to incorporate greater access to nature into our daily lives.
If you can't get outdoors, due to physical or other limitations, studies also show that watching nature documentaries can have a similar effect on reducing stress, anger, fatigue, and other unhealthy emotions and boosting self-esteem.