Social prescribing – such as encouraging people to walk or run – is now part of the NHS tool kit to combat rising levels of mental health and wellbeing problems in Scotland.
An NHS Health Scotland paper last summer described social prescribing as “an important approach to self-management of mental health”.
Over the past few years, it’s been used with a wide range of community-based services including arts and culture, green space, debt advice, physical activity and leisure, reading, learning and volunteering.
In Sutherland, GPs in Brora Medical Practice have teamed up with walk leaders from Highlife Highland to recommend that patients take up walking in the fresh air to significantly increase their levels of physical activity.
GPs started recommending that patients join the weekly health walks last August.
Now every Tuesday afternoon at 2pm, weather permitting, about eight patients regularly participate in the walks that start and end at the Station Square practice.
If the weather’s bad, the walk leaders make use of the nearby Brora hub for exercise classes.
There are now plans to expand the project to other practices and health centres elsewhere in Sutherland.
The Brora GPs say they want more people to get involved: “The good thing about it is that you don’t need equipment, you don’t need money and you don’t need to travel.
“Walking is also very good for mental health and people taking part can be as sociable or not as they want, it’s up to them.”