Green prescribing by doctors and other health professionals could be a valuable way of helping older people reap the benefits of outdoor recreation.
The idea is among a number of recommendations contained in a new report commissioned by the Scottish Government to examine the barriers older people face getting out and about.
Outdoor activity has been shown to be beneficial for physical and mental health and wellbeing, but older people are less likely to take part.
Speaking on a visit to a Forest Enterprise Scotland project for elderly people with dementia in Falkirk, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “Scotland has a spectacular natural environment and I want to ensure that its many health and social benefits can be enjoyed by young and old alike. This research shines a light on the barriers faced by older people and identifies a number of ways of maximising opportunities for outdoor recreation in both rural and urban areas.
“There are 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.”
The benefits of exercise are well documented but it can sometimes be a challenge to find a form of exercise that is both enjoyable and readily available.
John Nugent, Senior Medical Officer, Scottish Government said: “The benefits of exercise are well documented but it can sometimes be a challenge to find a form of exercise that is both enjoyable and readily available. 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.”
James Hutton Institute Researcher Margaret Currie said: “Outdoor recreation means different things to different people – for some it might be bagging a Munro, while for others it simply means getting out of the house. Consequently, older people can face varied and multiple barriers to accessing outdoor recreation which change over time.
“We have been able to identify a number of potential interventions, such as green prescribing which should be integrated with existing initiatives like health walks that offer opportunities for overcoming social and motivational barriers. It may be useful to tailor interventions 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.”
Over the last couple of years, Forest Enterprise Scotland has been running an innovative and fun 10-week programme of woodland activities for people with early-stage dementia. Small groups have the chance to take part in activities including woodland walks, fire lighting, woodland cooking, nature photography and willow sculpture.
The programme compliments traditional therapies and provides an overwhelmingly positive experience for participants, helping improve mood and boosting self-esteem.
Gordon Harper, Community Ranger with Forest Enterprise Scotland said: “We’re very pleased that the National Forest Estate is increasing opportunities for older adults and people with dementia to access and enjoy the great outdoors for health and wellbeing.
“The woodland environment offers a natural sensory experience which stimulates reminiscence, creates conversation and promotes engagement.”