Nature RX: The Best Medicine

John LaPuma M.D., board-certified in internal medicine, shared in the Children and Nature Network Bulletin that the late neurologist and author, Dr. Oliver Sacks, was a true believer in the power of nature to heal. Sacks, who would take his patients to gardens whenever possible, described two patients for whom nature was literally the best medicine.

One patient, a friend of Sacks’, had moderately severe Tourette’s syndrome. The condition forced hundreds of grunts and tics daily. But one day when the two men were hiking in a desert, his friend’s tics had completely disappeared. Sacks wrote that “the remoteness and uncrowdedness of the scene, combined with some ineffable calming effect of nature, served to defuse his ticcing, to “normalize” his neurological state, at least for a time.”

Another patient, a woman with moderately severe Parkinson’s disease, was frozen and immobile when indoors. But outside, she was mobile and agile on terrain, and in a rocky garden.

Just as in culinary medicine, a field I helped to begin in medicine, the existing research in nature therapy/green medicine is in disparate fields: horticulture, interior design, architecture, forestry, wildlife management, education, auditory and color science, botanical medicine, medical science. But it is being read by those of us keen on making nature therapy a health care tool that everyone can use.

Nature therapy is a new field in medicine defined as the prescriptive, evidence-based use of natural settings and nature-based interventions. Its mission is to prevent and improve signs, symptoms, clinical conditions and well-being. Its vision is to be readily available to every person regardless of proximity to blue or green space.

Walking in nature seems to boost short term memory significantly better than walking elsewhere. A meta-analysis of 143 studies and 290 million participants (nearly all since 2008) showed statistically significant reductions in diastolic blood pressure, salivary cortisol and heart rate, and in the incidence of diabetes, stroke, and all-cause and cardiovascular mortality…with nearly any green space exposure.

Kids with ADHD concentrate better after walking in a park rather than downtown or in a neighborhood. The improvement is as if they have been given extended-release methylphenidate (which is a stimulant medication used to treat ADHD and sold under the trade name Ritalin, among others).

Read the entire article here.

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