Health and Wellness through Nature

By NMP Faisal Jamal 
Here’s my speech for Ministry for Health yesterday, advocating that we pay attention to nature-based activities in promoting healthcare. I suggested two – to set aside spaces in healthcare facilities to include ‘edible gardens’ as well as structured and regular programs for visits to nature areas ( NOT parks and gardens only!). Response from Snr Parl Sec Prof Faishal Ibrahim is not very satisfactory , in my humble opinion. Since he is heading a ‘Healthy Living Master Plan’ Task Force I will have a dialogue with him and push this further.

COS 2013 HEAD O – MINSTRY OF HEALTH – Health and Wellness through Nature

Madam, I am happy to hear Dr Amy Khor’s description of the new healthcare facilities that will include green features because it ties in nicely with what I have to say.

Madam, apart from intensifying good programs of fitness, exercise and nutrition, it’s time we pay attention to the role that ‘green’ activities play in healthcare.

I would like to suggest two.

The first is gardening. As long ago as the 1800s Dr Benjamin Rush, a mental health pioneer found that ‘digging in the soil has curative effects on the mentally ill’. It is now well-documented scientifically that such activities help counter depression and raise self esteem.

I would go further and suggest that MOH consider putting aside spaces in healthcare facilities for ‘edible gardens’ where patients can take part in planting fruits and vegetables. Apart from the fun of growing food, and the satisfaction of harvest, it also creates community and celebration, creating positive emotions that support patients to get well, faster.

My second suggestion is for the Minister to seriously consider including visits to nature spaces as a major component in providing physical, emotional and mental healthcare for patients and step up efforts for such activities as a preventive measure for members of the public.

Early pioneering work has showed that patients recovered faster from surgery in a room with a view of a natural scene than those without such a view. Now, the most recent work of environment psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan showed that experiences in nature has ‘restorative ability’, turning negative thoughts and emotions to that of positive self image.

This shows increasing scientific evidence of the link between nature and our wellbeing, resulting in hope, resilience and courage to continue dealing constructively with life’s challenges.

So I would like to suggest structured programs where patients are taken on nature walks on a regular basis not just to the manicured areas like parks and gardens, but also to our nature reserves like Bukit Timah and Sungai Buloh Wetlands.

As NParks already has an established pool of experienced volunteer nature guides at our nature reserves, this service can be tapped for the benefit of patients.

In this way will patients truly get the holistic healthcare that they deserve.

Faizah Jamal
Nominated Member of Parliament – Civic and People Sector ( Environment and Heritage)
12 March 2013

Nature Society tour to identify plants and look out for birds