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SOON ON A PRESCRIPTION? The therapeutic effects of being in nature

Doctors in the Shetland Islands in Scotland can prescribe “nature” as a medicine for their patients from the 5th of October 2018.

This is the first such program in Great Britain led by the state National Health Service and the humanitarian organization of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The aim of the program is to reduce anxiety, stress, blood pressure, and the risk of heart disease on the one hand, and increase satisfaction and happiness, and generally better mental health, on the other.

“The physical and psychological benefits of connecting with nature have been proven by numerous recent studies, so it is time for the healthcare system to become aware of this,” said Makena Lohr, a spokeswoman for the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare in Oxford, in the Guardian.

There is a brochure with “prescriptions” from nature accompanying this program, full of fun and charming suggestions. For example, in March, Scots can “make artwork from materials found on the beach” or “borrow a dog and take it for a walk”, in April they can “touch the sea” or “make a hotel for insects”, in May “dive their face into the grass”, and in November “feed birds in the garden”. All of this, of course, with a doctor's prescription.

Evidence of the benefits of nature for mental and physical health is widespread. If you spend 90 minutes a day in the open air in forest areas, the activity on the part of the brain related to depression decreases. Spending time in nature not only reduces blood pressure and anxiety and increases the feeling of happiness, but also reduces aggressiveness and symptoms of ADHD and strengthens the immune system... Scientists claim that there many further benefits exist that we do not know about and have yet to discover and prove.

Given that the period after Christmas and New Year's holidays, linked to feelings of depression and sadness, is collectively called the “January Blues”, it would not be a bad start to follow in the footsteps of the Scottish doctors and write ourselves a prescription of visiting nature so that in the New Year we would be would be happier, calmer, and more relaxed.

The Krka National Park has also taken care so that the untouched beauties of nature would be as available as possible: the “Friends of the Krka Club” allows its members to visit this karst gem at much cheaper prices. Membership in the club costs 200 kn for adults and 90 kn for children between seven and eighteen accompanied by parents, while residents of Sibenik-Knin County receive a 50% discount when they join. Members of the club can visit all the sites in the Krka National Park throughout the year without limitation, except for the Skradinska Buka waterfalls in the main tourist months, i.e. in July and August, when the membership ticket can be used only once. In addition to the identity card for the Friends of the Krka Club, a personal identity card or other appropriate document must be presented at the entrance to the Park. You can join at all the reception areas and offices of the Krka National Park upon presentation of an identity card.

The influence of the sea upon the valley of the Krka River extends deep into the mainland, which contributes significantly to the favorable climatic conditions in this area. As one of the sunniest areas in Croatia, the Šibenik region is an ideal destination for a nature trip throughout the twelve months of the year. The winter months are ideal for relaxed walking or cycling through the Park, where you can enjoy the natural beauty without crowds, waiting, and lines – just you and nature. Design your own "therapy", as modelled on the Scottish doctors, just make sure it is in compliance with the Park's rules! In January, for example, enjoy the abundance of water in the Skradinski Buk waterfalls, use February to explore the bike routes of the Krka National Park, in April go birdwatching in the Čikola River canyon, reserve June for long walks on footpaths to access lookouts, and in September get involved in studying endemic plant species (there are 41 in the Park, but do not forget – just take pictures, no picking!). Choose Nature for a Healthy New Year.

Photo: Ilija Kordić