Green Prescribing or A Change of Air

In this blog we look at the growing trend for conventional doctors and the media to recognise the benefits of lifestyle changes for improving health. Often perceived by modern medicine to be new concepts: “green prescribing” and “functional medicine” have been used as naturopathic therapies since the 19th century.

 Although the concept of health travel has been recorded in ancient civilisations, it was not until the mid-eighteenth century that European physicians began to recommend a “change of air” to patients suffering from such nervous ailments, defined at that time, as melancholy and hypochondriasis. During the Victorian era this became hugely popular, but that trend disappeared in the 20th century with the growth of pharmaceutical medicine based on clinical trial evidence. Naturopathic lifestyle approaches to health were largely dismissed by conventional medicine and sceptics at this time as quackery.


In 2017 the World Health Organisation published a report called “Urban Green Spaces and Health Interventions” reviewing the growing body of evidence for increasing and improving the amount of green space available to urban populations. The report highlighted that high quality green spaces improved both the health and the well-being of urban residents and conventional medicine finally began to take lifestyle approaches to health more seriously. The Covid crisis has further highlighted the importance of being outdoors for physical and mental health and in July last year the government announced various trials of “green social prescribing”.


Whatever terminology is used to describe these therapies, it is good news that modern conventional medicine is moving away from automatically prescribing pharmaceuticals for every type of illness


The BBC’s Just One Thing series on Radio 4 takes the concept of green prescribing and functional medicine one stage further by recommending several pro-active steps you can take to improve your health and wellbeing. The BBC has generally been overly cautious about promoting naturopathic approaches and anything the sceptics can challenge as poorly researched.


Each episode suggests one small change you can make that can potentially extend both your life expectancy and quality of life. Importantly, Dr Michael Mosely and co-presenters provide the scientific basis for why these changes help, although as with most health research where you cannot patent the product, the research is often thin by clinical standards. Examples include “spending time in nature”, “eating fermented foods” and an “early morning walk“. Some of the ideas may seem just like common sense while others are more challenging and interesting.