Saturday 20 December 2014

All doctors should be prescribing is free 'wonder-drug': the great outdoors

Published 13/12/2013 | 23:32

In Ireland we are spoilt for choice when it comes to getting fresh air and exercise, as our scenery is second to none.

So how do we get our mojo back? Perhaps it's time we turned to nature

There has been a strong reaction in the UK to GPs no longer being required to ask patients about exercise. Doctors have managed to get a requirement, that they ask patients about their exercise levels, removed from GP contracts. They are claiming it was too time-consuming.

Health experts have accused the British Medical Association of ignoring the "wonder-drug" that is fresh air.

They are right to be outraged. Studies have shown the positive effects of fresh air and exercise on patients with all kinds of complaints and problems.

In fact only last month, a major study was published in the 'British Medical Journal' stating that exercise could be considered a "viable alternative" to drugs given for conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

How then can doctors ignore the benefits? How can they not encourage patients to take advantage of a 'drug' that is free, readily available and has no negative side-effects?

Leading charity Macmillan Cancer Support in the UK said that this move to stop GPs asking patients about exercise is sending the message that physical activity was unimportant. Its chief medical officer, Jane Maher, described exercise as a "wonder drug".

Richard Weiler, a GP specialising in sports and exercise medicine said that doctors were supposed to use physical activities to treat 39 diseases but that many of them were not doing so. He said these doctors were prescribing far too many drugs instead of looking at the alternative of exercise.

Fresh air has also proven to be useful in fighting depression. In a recent survey, Irish people ranked last in Europe for happiness. The survey, carried out by polling firm Red C, asked people whether they're happy or unhappy and then measured the gap between the two.

In most countries, happy people outnumber the unhappy people by 40 percentage points -- but in Ireland there's a gap of just 20pc. So it seems we are only half as happy as almost everyone else.

Forty-five per cent of people in Ireland said they were happy, with 25pc saying they were unhappy. Thirty per cent of Irish people said that they were neither happy nor unhappy.

So how do we get our mojo back? How do we get Irish eyes smiling again? Perhaps it's time we turned to nature.

Along with exercise and lots of fresh air, gardening is now also considered to be hugely beneficial in dealing with illness and depression.

It has become a popular way to recover physically and mentally from illness in both adults and children. Gardening has been proven to reduce stress, stimulate the senses and create a bond between you and nature.

Gardening is considered to be good for the soul because it's a calming occupation. The combination of fresh air and the physicality of digging, weeding and planting all help oxygenate and energise the body.

Scientific studies have shown that even by just being in a garden your blood pressure will lower. The other wonderful thing about gardening and fresh air is that it stimulates the appetite and helps people sleep. Both of these are key areas to recovering from illness and fighting depression.

The other benefit of gardening is the fact that you are constantly looking to the future as you plant and sow in the hope of seeing things grow in the months ahead.

Here in Ireland we are spoilt for choice when it comes to getting fresh air and exercise. Our forests, parks, beaches and scenery are second to none. We have so much to choose from when it comes to being outdoors.

Our little island is famous for its beautiful scenery so we should take advantage of it. Being outdoors is free, it will lift your spirits and get your heart rate up.

All doctors should be prescribing a large dose of nature and gardening for patients. Why waste such an incredible resource? Why waste a 'drug' that has been proven to help on the road to recovery for all manner of ailments both physical and emotional.

If digging in mud can save our souls and help us look to the future, perhaps we should all be asking Santa for spades and rakes this Christmas.

Irish Independent

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