Doctors should give older people 'green prescriptions', finds report

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 26 August 2016 in News

James Hutton Institute report recommends GPs should issue “green prescriptions” to encourage older people to take up outdoor pursuits

Older people are being urged to exercise outdoors - photo credit: PA

Doctors should directly encourage older people to exercise outdoors, according to a new report which found less than 50 per cent of over-60s and 40 per cent of over-75s participated in outdoor pursuits one or more times a week.

The report from the James Hutton Institute explored barriers which discourage older people from engaging in outdoor recreation, including poor health and immobility, lack of or reduced social connections, fragility and vulnerability, lack of motivation and time commitments, safety, and weather and season.

Exercising outdoors has been shown to be beneficial for physical and mental health and wellbeing, but older people are less likely to take part. The report recommends that GPs should issue “green prescriptions” to encourage older people to take up outdoor pursuits.


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Researchers suggested interventions should be tailored to suit people of different abilities and preferences, and to target people at key moments of life change – such as retirement, or friends or spouses passing away.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “There is already a whole host of activities available across Scotland, such as local walking groups or this excellent Forest Enterprise Scotland project, which are aimed at increasing access to our great outdoors. Earlier this week I was also delighted to confirm the Central Scotland Green Network Development Fund is now open to applicants, which is one way we’re helping communities to develop accessible greenspace that is close to people’s homes.

“We want to make the most of our ‘natural health service’ and so the Scottish Government will now look at these recommendations very carefully with our delivery partners including Forest Enterprise Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and local authorities.”

John Nugent, senior medical officer at the Scottish Government, said older people can find it challenging to engage in exercise that is both enjoyable and readily available.

He said: “Using Scotland’s ‘natural gym’ to walk, run or cycle, is an ideal way for all ages to combine exercise with an appreciation of Scotland’s natural beauty.”

Forest Enterprise Scotland has been running a ten week programme of woodland activities for people with early-stage dementia, with small groups taking part in activities such as woodland walks, fire lighting, woodland cooking, nature photography and willow sculpture.

The programme, which compliments traditional therapies, aims to improve mood and boost self-esteem.

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