Nature’s tonic

On Friday splashed across the front page of The Guardian was the headline: ‘GPs to tell patients: exercise, it’s better than many drugs‘. A new report by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges is encouraging doctors to have conversations with patients about the need for more physical exercise in their lives.

At a time when half of the population doesn’t do enough exercise and we lead a fairly sedentary lifestyle, much of which is rooted in the onwards march of screen time, this seems pretty pragmatic thing for doctors to do; in effect being a bit more direct with people with a sprinkling of diplomacy. It taps into the tough on the causes of poor health as much as prescribing drugs once the affects of ill-health have set in. Preventative health care measures will help the patients, improving their quality of life, and save the NHS lots of cash.

However – the covering of this and two things that happened to me in the last 48 hours got me thinking. What we need is a natural health service rooted in enhancing both the physical and mental well-being of Britons.

Encouraging physical exercise makes sense. But it can have other positive side-effects. On Friday I was walking to Bath Spa station to catch a train to Bristol. I could have caught a bus or taken a taxi. However, I would have missed a moment in time that captivated me: stopping in my tracks for barely a minute to watch a blue tit perched in a tree sing its little heart out. Instantly I felt refreshed and my soul was nourished by this most musical of natural sounds.

And then on Saturday a visit to Dyrham Park and the walk through a part of the estate that I hadn’t been before created a moment of wonder. Walking down an old holloway, looking at twisted trees and lichen covered trunks, to a newly built natural play area past made me smile deep inside and the sound of my two children racing down to the play area was a snapshot of how nature can create such a positive feeling.

I remember sitting in a meadow last summer for ten minutes just watching the grasses gently blow in the breeze and spotting butterflies as they dashed past to an unknown destination. Just a short time, tuned out of the treadmill of every day life made me feel really good.

Perhaps we need to see a world where GPs start to prescribe all of their patients nature as a tonic to help them deal with the challenges that they face – making ten minutes a day connecting with the nature. It can help with our physical well-being and also our mental alertness. It also allows us the chance to reconnect with the natural world and hopefully get a real sense of the places where we live.

Modern life is in danger of purely being built around screen time, being sedentary and moving quickly between A and B. We need to take time out, for our own sanity, to reflect, to ponder and to just to sit still and watch and listen. There is no way that we can operate at full speed all of the time and yet there is an innate need to wander which is a core part of being human.

We need exercise to keep our physical condition and we need the natural world to have a sense of connection to the world around us and the pure joy that being immersed in nature can bring. Walking or cycling a little bit every day will help you see the world anew and make your heart sing.

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One response to “Nature’s tonic

  1. Hello Mike. I couldn’t agree more. There is no question people do feel better mentally and physically after a wildlife encounter or a simple country walk.But how do we get people to do this if they don’t already? And why don’t they do it? Living in a city is no excuse, as all cities have pockets of greenery, and with the growing urban wildlife population such as foxes, you don’t even have to seek out greenery in order to observe the natural world (albeit in an unnatural environment). To paraphrase Woody Allen, there are those who are at one with nature, and those who are at two with it….or maybe they only think they are until they’ve had their own nature-based epiphany.

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