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Social Prescribing: How taking a ‘nature pill’ can boost wellbeing

We’ve talked a lot about social prescribing in primary care recently, so research that shows getting closer to nature can lower stress levels really caught our eye.


It's been reported that getting outdoors to spend between 20 and 30 minutes amongst nature can cut levels of the stress hormone cortisol by around 10 per cent. A study prepared by scientists in America has put these claims forward, so what are the details of the research?

Can a ‘Nature Pill’ Help Primary Care Patients?

The time spent in the great outdoors by participants in the study was compared to taking a ‘nature pill’ by the team of researchers, which includes Dr MaryCarol Hunter of the University of Michigan.

Dr Hunter commented: "We know that spending time in nature reduces stress, but until now it was unclear how much is enough, how often to do it, or even what kind of nature experience will benefit us.”

"Our study shows that for the greatest payoff, in terms of efficiently lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol, you should spend 20 to 30 minutes sitting or walking in a place that provides you with a sense of nature."

Reducing Stress Levels and Increasing Wellbeing

People who took part in the study were asked not to do anything that could heighten their stress levels while they spent their allotted time outside, including exercising, using smartphones, talking to other people, or reading.

But what about Social Prescribing for less active people? It’s interesting to note that the study found that participants taking time to simply sit in an outdoor place that made them feel close to nature found a positive effect on the levels of cortisol they were producing.

This is fascinating information for Practice Managers for two reasons. It indicates that Social Prescribing really can make a difference to patients’ wellbeing, but it’s also something to consider doing for our own benefit too – think of it as a form of Social Prescribing for yourself.

The Benefits of Social Prescribing

Thornfields trainer Kay Keane has spoken to FPM previously about her GP practice’s approach to social prescribing: “Focusing on social prescribing and developing an approach that promotes wellbeing means we are able to address the 30% of patients who don’t need a GP, but still come to us as they trust us."

“By working with (patients) to understand their non-medical needs, like the things that appear on our Social Prescription, we are able to offer a whole programme of events and activities that support patients in a different way.”


For more information on how a Social Prescribing session could benefit your GP Practice, get in touch with the Thornfields team on 0333 240 4055 or by visiting the Thornfields website.


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