Scotland

'Green prescribing' urged to get older people active outdoors

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Media captionOne project in Falkirk aims to get older people involved in woodland activities

More should be done to overcome social and motivational barriers that stop older people doing outdoor recreational activities, a new report has said.

The James Hutton Institute carried out research for the Scottish government.

It found less than 50% of over-60s and 40% of over-75s participated in outdoor pursuits one or more times a week.

It said GPs and medical professionals could help by giving out so-called "green prescriptions" - encouraging older people to exercise more outdoors.

The report, entitled Access to outdoor recreation by older people in Scotland, looked in particular at what discourages this group of people from getting outside more often.

It also outlined measures aimed at removing or reducing those barriers.


Getting out and about

Image caption The report highlights the benefits of taking part in outdoor activities

For the past couple of years Forest Enterprise Scotland has been running an initiative providing woodland activities for people with early-stage dementia.

"When we come here we have something to do," says Peter Morrison who's been taking part in activities at Calendar Park in Falkirk.

"We make the tea or we light the fire or collect the wood, where as maybe we'd just be at home watching television or something and you do that day, after day, after day but up here we're always wandering about and we're surrounded by trees and it's really interesting."

Kevin Lafferty, access, health and recreation manager for the Forestry Commission Scotland, said: "The forest and the woodlands are a great library, they're a natural resource and they trigger memories and positive past experiences.

"They also give people the opportunity to socialise and re-contact with other people so it's a great setting for treatment and recovery and also an opportunity to take things away from a clinical or medical setting."

Sam Reid, another of those taking part in the project, added: "I didn't want to come in the first place.

"Possibly I didn't want to be roped in as an invalid, but I'm not an invalid. I'm just somebody who forgets.

"I got a wee nudge to come along and it's been absolutely brilliant."


Some participants in the research reported safety concerns or a lack of companionship as reasons why they were reluctant to participate in outdoor activities.

Others lacked self-motivation or said they were too busy.

The report said "green prescribing" by GPs and other medical professionals could be a "valuable" way of helping older people maximise the benefits of spending more time out of doors.

However, it said interventions should be tailored to suit people's ability and preferences and targeted at key moments in a person's life.

Margaret Currie, researcher at the James Hutton Institute, said: "Outdoor recreation means different things to different people - for some it might be bagging a Munro, while for others it simply means getting out of the house.

"We have been able to identify a number of potential interventions, such as green prescribing, which should be integrated with existing initiatives like health walks that offer opportunities for overcoming social and motivational barriers.

"It may be useful to tailor interventions to suit people of different abilities and preferences, and to target people at key moments of life-change such as retirement, or friends or spouses passing away."

Speaking on a visit to the Forest Enterprise Scotland project, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: "Scotland has a spectacular natural environment and I want to ensure that its many health and social benefits can be enjoyed by young and old alike.

"This research shines a light on the barriers faced by older people and identifies a number of ways of maximising opportunities for outdoor recreation in both the rural and urban areas."

She added: "We want to make the most of our 'natural health service' and so the Scottish government will now look at these recommendations very carefully with our delivery partners including Forest Enterprise Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and local authorities."

John Nugent, senior medical officer for the Scottish government, added: "Using Scotland's 'natural gym' to walk, run or cycle, is an ideal way for all ages to combine exercise with an appreciation of Scotland's natural beauty."

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