Is Green Prescribing the answer to our future health?

Green prescribing will probably have little meaning for most people. As a best guess, suggestions might include environmentally-friendly drugs or sustainable medical supplies. However, for many, it is probably something that we have been blissfully unaware of doing for most of our adult lives. Green prescribing is about using the outdoors, in whatever shape or form we might prefer, to improve our health and well-being. And now, it’s become an actual thing.

The Oxford Naturally Healthy conference, held last week, discussed the opportunities within the County for making better use of the outdoors. It brought together public health professionals, the public sector, academics and practitioners to discuss the merits of “a bit of fresh air”. It’s no joking matter. The cost to the NHS and the economy of poor health, especially due to obesity and mental health issues such as stress and depression, is growing exponentially. And whilst we can continue to prescribe pharmaceutical or surgical solutions, this is not actually doing either party great service.

The Victorians used to prescribe a trip to the seaside. What was discussed at this conference was how to build momentum, sometimes literally, towards more active, more social and more fulfilling lives. As a practitioner and long-time convert to using the outdoors to combat the pressures of work, the fact that 100 people were willing to give up their valuable time to push this agenda forward in the County was long overdue. At a simple level, formal walking groups starting, and finishing, at a GP surgery can build change in a local community. Individuals become more active, strike up conversations that they would otherwise do without for days on end and reduce their quota of GP appointments. Step up a level, excuse the pun, and what was on offer in the room ranged from growing and gardening to bushcraft and dance. All of which, in various measures, burns calories, boosts serotonin and grows social networks.

So, is this fad or future?

Well, it would seem that the context of a perfect-storm might see this movement granted a longevity that otherwise might not have emerged. GP appointments, already only ten minutes long, cannot realistically deal with all of society’s anxieties, so there has to be another outlet. Work-life balance, social-media and the billion-dollar online game Fortnite, (if you believe the media this week), will gradually lead to the downfall of healthy society. It is a society, ironically, where loneliness is also at an all-time high.

The outdoors is already there, practitioners are already offering a wealth of opportunity. The stumbling block might just be strength of will. It takes confidence to meet new people. It takes effort to pursue a physical solution rather than to pop a pill. It takes commitment and funding to be able to spend time building a portfolio of support for individuals with, sometimes, complex needs.

As a first event, the challenge has been laid down by the converted to build momentum for something so obvious that it would be rude not to discuss further. However, this challenge must also find an ownership amongst its potential beneficiaries. For without them, the outdoorsy ones amongst us will continue to fill Instagram with aspirational posts of healthy-living whilst the ones that we should have converted will continue to aspire to healthy-living without actually leaving the house.