I remember a family practice doctor once telling me “Most of my patients aren’t sick. They’re lonely, unhappy, stressed or bored.”
His observation resonated with me.
So many somatic complaints, like headaches, back pain and digestive problems, stem from emotional upset.
Being isolated or bored or just unhappy with life leads to eating poorly and sitting too much, which in turn leads to heart disease, diabetes and depression.
It’s sadly easy to go to a doctor and get a prescription for a drug to treat high blood pressure or depression or heartburn.
Did you know 70% of Americans take at least one prescription drug? And how many of those drugs are trying to treat conditions that could be more effectively and safely treated with lifestyle changes alone?
Some docs are even trying drug-free prescriptions for healthier lifestyles.
Doctors in England and Canada have tried an innovative program to beat loneliness in the elderly. Social isolation is a huge problem in those countries as well as America. Why is it a health problem?
Loneliness, however, is not merely an emotional issue. It threatens physical health and well-being. It’s associated with higher levels of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone. And as loneliness becomes more pronounced, it results in physical challenges such as increased risks of heart attack and stroke.
Instead of prescribing a drug for someone, doctors in 11 community health centres are trying to heal patients by sending them to the local bingo hall or museum. Or by teaching them to knit, fish, sing in a choir or play the ukulele.
The technical term for this approach is “social prescription.” It might sound weird, but there’s evidence it works.
Is anyone trying it in our country? I hope so. I’ve posted before about the benefits of staying socially active and using your brain to play games like mahjongg, bingo or bridge.
Find or arrange a group in your neighborhood. Many bars and coffee shops offer game nights, or just have board games available to play anytime. It’s a fun way to make new friends, and you don’t have to wait for a doctor’s prescription!
Another novel drug-free prescription is for a dose of nature.
Programs in the UK and the US have doctors writing prescriptions for outdoor activities, such as going to the park, taking a hike, bird watching, beach combing, etc.
These prescriptions are especially useful for children and teens who are overweight and sedentary.
There’s even a non-profit called Park Rx America that facilitates physicians being able to write outdoor prescriptions for their patients.
Over 100 million Americans currently suffer from a chronic disease (e.g., coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and mental health conditions). More than two thirds of American adults currently suffer from overweight/obesity, which contributes to chronic disease. Chronic disease results in decreased quality of life, and ultimately, premature death.
Spending time in natural environments increases physical activity, hence decreasing the risk of developing chronic disease. Park Rx America is a low-cost intervention that utilizes a known, generally trusted, and accessible resource – parks – to influence positive health outcomes.
Get outside and play!
Drug-free prescriptions? I’d be happy to have one filled.