There has been a new wave of thinking when it comes to visiting the doctor and health. GPs in the UK can now prescribe so called ‘green prescriptions’ which advises patients to attend leisure centres, parks or start gardening. This new type of social and medical care is primarily there to encourage exercise and reduce the strain on NHS services from preventable illness and diseases caused by the obesity epidemic.

The prescriptions could provide free visits to national parks or gardening sessions at National Trust properties, match patients up directly with a leisure centre and on to fitness courses. There are already trials of these ‘social prescribing schemes’ in Devon, Dorset and Liverpool, with hopes for more across the country.  However, The Royal College of General Practitioners’ Spokesman Dr Steve Mowle said: “Social prescribing schemes can certainly be beneficial to a patient’s overall health and wellbeing – as some pilots have shown – but to be effective, there needs to be better integration between health and community services, so that GPs and our teams can signpost our patients most appropriately.”

Patients can be recommended to allotment and gardening groups where the benefits to both physical and mental health are extraordinary. In The contribution of allotment gardening to health and wellbeing: A systematic review of the literature , findings showed “Allotment gardening provides a stress-relieving refuge, contributes to a healthier lifestyle, creates social opportunities, provides valued contact with nature, and enables self-development.”

Information from NHS Choices indicates that people who do regular physical activity have:

  • up to a 35% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke
  • up to a 50% lower risk of type 2 diabetes
  • up to a 50% lower risk of colon cancer
  • up to a 20% lower risk of breast cancer
  • a 30% lower risk of early death
  • up to an 83% lower risk of osteoarthritis
  • up to a 68% lower risk of hip fracture
  • a 30% lower risk of falls (among older adults)
  • up to a 30% lower risk of depression
  • up to a 30% lower risk of dementia

With all these benefits, maybe it is time you picked up your pitch fork and get digging!

Further Reading

The contribution of allotment gardening to health and wellbeing: A systematic review of the literature

The Impact of an Allotment Group on Mental Health Clients’ Health, Wellbeing and Social Networking

Doctors urged to offer ‘exercise outdoors’ prescriptions – BBC

Green prescription needed to tackle ‘cradle to grave’ health crisis – National Health Executive

Benefits of regular exercise – NHS Choices