Nature to save your health

For decades, the Japanese have practiced shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, known for its overall health benefits. More and more health professionals in Canada and Quebec are incorporating a dose of nature into their protocols. A pill, a tiny pellet, a breath of fresh air? Why not!

Isabelle Bradette is an emergency physician at the Jonquière hospital. After graduating from medical school in 2010, she returned to school in 2018-2019 to complete her DESS in Nature and Adventure Intervention. The connection between the outdoors and health is clear to the woman who modestly describes herself as a pioneer of natural recipes in Quebec.

“I’ve been thinking about this for a while: how to bring professionals together, how to make them understand that the benefits of nature are for patients, that this is supported by the literature? »

During her research, she discovered the work of Dr. Melissa Lem, a professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Medicine, who initiated Canada’s first “prescribed nature,” the PaRx initiative.
“I was really happy! I emailed him to tell him that I was interested in this area and to ask him if there was anything similar in Quebec,” said Dr. Bradette concludes.
It was almost as if Mrs. Lem was waiting for this helping hand from her colleague on the other side of the country.

“He called me an hour later! He wanted to expand the initiative and there was no one in Quebec… We decided to create a committee to build a nature recipe program in the color of Quebec,” he said.

The British Columbia program was not only translated, but also adapted. “We’ve modulated it according to what we want to push here,” the doctor explains.

The official opening of the Quebec program took place in May 2022. A wide range of healthcare professional orders and associations were invited to learn about it. They were provided with readily available tools, including prescription leaflets.

“In Quebec, we reached 45,000 practices. Do all members do nature recipes? Probably not, but we joined them. They know it exists. And this is a start! »
He himself integrates them into his protocols, both in the preventive mode and in the care mode. And he preaches it to his peers.

“I spread the good news in my community! I made presentations during lunch, we can practice… We open the doors quietly! I am happy, they are starting to talk to each other more and more, “he is happy.

The doctor printed the prescription sheets that he presented to his colleagues to fill out and thus formalize his recommendations to his patients. He hopes this small, user-friendly tool will encourage doctors to make nature’s prescriptions an integral part of their practice.
For patients, the fact that a prescription is received in the appropriate form, signed by a doctor, formalizes a kind of recommendation.

Dr. Isabelle Bradette. Courtesy

“I don’t know if patients will come out more, but what I’ve seen in my 12 years of work is that the paper given to the patient is like an anchor for learning the advice, regardless of the advice. it has just been given to him. »
There are many examples in his workplace. “If someone with a sprain comes to the emergency room and they’re given a lot of verbal advice about what to do, exercises, and they’re not given a sheet of advice on what to do, for example, we’re going to see more of it. I give printed instructions to one,” he laughs.

The doctor believes that the material prescription will therefore be more effective. “If a health professional took the time to put it down on paper, it must be important! I write to you as a doctor, I put my seal. This is more than advice! Put it on the fridge, on the bulletin board! »
And… go play outside!

Shinrin what? Shinrin-yoku!

(EB) In the Land of the Rising Sun, “forest bathing” (Shinrin-yoku) was first promoted by the Forestry Agency in 1982. The Japanese were also the first to study the health effects of this activity, which they defined as a form. walking and inhalation of substances secreted by trees, phytoncides, including terpenes.
Phytoncides are a collection of antimicrobial volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released into the air by trees and grasses to protect against pathogens. Research results converge to the same conclusion and are particularly convincing for depressed workers.

“Effects of exposure to forest environments include recovery from stress and mitigating the effects of reduced attention due to fatigue. The act of “forest bathing” has been considered a natural remedy for improving physical and mental health. Studies have shown that terpene compounds, such as phytoncides, emitted from trees have a relaxing effect on the body,” says a comparative study of the physiological and psychological effects of forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku) on people with and without depression. trends (Furuyashiki et al., 2019).

The same study concluded that the negative emotions felt strongly by depressed participants before forest bathing were significantly reduced after about two hours of session.
An important condition for the success of “Forest Beach” is to leave the cell phone behind.

What dose, doctor?

(EB) The Quebec College of Physicians, which supports the Prescri-nature program, suggests that its members spend about two hours a week with their patients, 20 minutes or more each time, but each doctor can direct the prescription accordingly. to the needs, availability and abilities of the patient.

Sample natural recipe signed by Dr. Isabelle Bradette.

“Studies show that people who spend at least 2 hours a week in nature experience better health and well-being. When it comes to nature’s mental health and stress benefits, evidence suggests that the most significant reductions in cortisol occur between 20 and 30 minutes after exposure to nature. Hence our suggestion of 20 minutes of exposure each time. »

And you don’t need to put on your running shoes and sweat profusely to experience the benefits associated with “designated nature.”
“Health benefits are seen when patients experience meaningful contact with nature, whether sitting in a park, walking through a neighborhood green, or hiking in a national park,” we write on the page dedicated to these new prescriptions. on the website of the college of doctors.

Another argument for Sépaq

In 2021, the Society of Outdoor Enterprises of Quebec (Sépaq) Dr. He commissioned a literature review from a team of researchers from the Montreal Heart Institute under the direction of Louis Bherer. The subject? The benefits of nature for overall health.
Thus, the collected results are ambiguous.

A meta-analysis of over 160 articles found that interacting with nature has benefits such as reduced heart rate and blood pressure, reduced sympathetic nerve activity and cortisol levels (less stress), increased parasympathetic nervous activity (better relaxation), and reduced anxiety. Dr. Bhérer himself was “surprised by the robustness of the findings”.

Studies show that contact with nature reduces depression and negative emotions, improves mood, reduces fatigue, invigorates and increases focus.

The theory of attention restoration, voiced in some studies, believes that “exposure to nature can lead to improvements in cognitive function.”

Photo: Hautes-Gorges de la Rivière-Malbaie – SEPAQ – Steve Deschênes

A survey of visitors to national parks confirms the study’s findings, as 87% of surveyed visitors felt their visit had a positive impact on their mental health and 84% on their physical health.

The study also concludes that one of the guaranteed benefits of interacting with nature is increased environmental and sustainability awareness and adoption of positive behaviors. Everyone wins!

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