Gardening ‘should be prescribed by doctors’

Gardening should be prescribed as a treatment by family doctors, according to a government health advisor.

Dr William Bird, who advises Public Health England on physical activity, is to call for community gardening schemes to tackle disease, Mail Online reports.

He told the newspaper that every £1 spent on access to community outdoor schemes could save the health service £5 in other treatments.

Outdoor therapy can be used to treat a wide range of conditions, including dementia, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, the doctor said.

Dementia patients benefit from the sensory stimulation they receive when outdoors, while exercise reduces the risk of obesity and heart disease.

In addition, the role played by nature in cutting stress can significantly improve people's mental health.

"A dose of green space, really connecting people back to nature, can make a huge difference," Dr Bird said.

"Blood pressure reduces, muscle tension reduces, all of these happen within moments of going into a park or a garden. Reducing stress has been shown to make a significant difference in all kinds of ways."

A group of GPs in Newham, East London, has begun offering 'community prescription' outdoor exercise programmes for those at risk of type two diabetes.

Dr Bird said funding ought to be provided for a range of similar schemes, including walking groups and gardening programmes.

Research by Dr Matilda Van Den Bosch, a Swedish researcher who has studied the impact of green spaces on physical and mental health, reveals the sounds of nature reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol in humans.

While scientists have long known that chronic stress increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, a growing school of thought believes it can lead to diabetes and dementia by increasing the inflammation of cells.

Dr Van Den Bosch, from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, said preventing complex ailments such as diabetes and mental health problems by providing access to green spaces could be more effective than treating them.

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