Do yourself and your health a favour this weekend and get outdoors to enjoy the parklands and forests that surround our beautiful township.

We are blessed in Daylesford and Hepburn with an abundance of nature at our doorstep. And according to new research from UNSW, a dose of the outdoors may be just what the doctor ordered.

Imagine that your doctor prescribes you a new treatment. It’s pleasant and enjoyable and you can have as much as you want. Potential side effects include spontaneous euphoria and being in a good mood. Not to mention, it’s free and available all around you. It’s not a drug or some other medical procedure that your doctor has recommended. Instead, it is a “nature prescription” – a recommendation to spend time in nature.

Researchers from UNSW assessed international evidence for nature prescriptions and their ability to improve health. They analysed 28 studies that tested nature prescriptions in real-world patients. The systematic review and meta-analysis, published in The Lancet Planetary Health, found that nature prescriptions provided both physical and mental health benefits. Patients had reduced blood pressure, as well as lower depression and anxiety scores – and they had a higher daily step count.

“The evidence shows that nature prescriptions can help to restore and build capacities for better physical and mental health. What we need now is to work out how to make nature prescriptions happen in a sustained way for those people with high potential to benefit, but who currently spend little time in nature,” said Prof. Xiaoqi Feng. “This study is built upon a long-term program of research that we are doing, where we show contact with nature – and trees especially – is really good for strengthening mental and physical health across our lives.”

A study of almost 47,000 adults in New South Wales (NSW), showed that those living in areas with 30 per cent or more tree canopy reported better general health and reduced psychological distress. This research has informed the City of Sydney’s $377million strategy to reach 40 per cent green cover by 2050.

Previous research from Prof. Astell-Burt and Prof. Feng has shown that low-income communities are least likely to have access to green space. Yet, these communities are more at risk of chronic health issues like type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. “We don’t want nature prescriptions to be a luxury item for the rich who already have access to beaches and a lot of high-quality green space,” Prof. Feng said. “We want these benefits for everyone.”

There are no large-scale nature prescription programs in Australia yet. More research is needed to understand how nature prescriptions could be implemented in our local context.

But you don’t need a doctor to give you a “nature prescription”. It’s something that you can safely self-prescribe. Have a walk around Lake Daylesford or simply sit on a park bench and enjoy the beauty of the Lake as autumn colours emerge.

Or you can join one of the local bushwalking groups.

Hepburn U3A conducts guided walks every Friday morning and describes a number of local walks on their website.

The Great Dividing Trail Association conducts monthly guided walks and quarterly mountain bike rides. They have also published a booklet of short, half-day circuit walks and rides near Daylesford. The booklet is available from their website or from the Visitor Information Centre.