Lifelong Learning is Medicine

June 9, 2020 Joe Brady

What if instead of prescribing a pill for something like depression, a doctor could prescribe a yearlong pass to the museum or a series of art classes? Would that be as effective as a drug? Could it even be more effective? How do we keep people healthy in mind and body during these stressful times?These are fascinating questions that scientists from around the world are beginning answer.

Taking a more holistic approach to health is the concept of “social prescribing” where physicians, nurses, and integrative medicine practitioners refer patients to community-based programs that offer education, social and emotional support, exercise, and recreational opportunities in order to improve health and well being. The concept has gained popularity in the UK, Ireland, Scotland, and the Netherlands. Social prescribing interventions tend to include targeted life-style interventions like physical activity, healthy eating or cooking well as social determinants of health, activity levels, social connectivity,2 and mental health.3 

A major study just completed by an interdisciplinary team at Oxford University “Can Gardens, Libraries and Museums Improve Wellbeing Through Social Prescribing?” brings together the experience and expertise of health researchers in the University’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine (CEBM), general practitioners, heritage sector specialists in the University’s Gardens, Libraries and Museums (GLAM), and members of the public.

Based on a 12-month research project, the report explores how gardens, libraries and museums could contribute to health and wellbeing through “social prescribing”, which is a key part of the NHS Long Term Plan and delivery of Universal Personalised Care.

The report shows that these environments can support health and wellbeing by:

  • helping people learn new things
  • develop new skills
  • make social connections
  • gain a greater sense of structure and purpose

The research identified three key concepts for improving health.

  1. Cultural venues can be seen as “therapeutic landscapes” – spaces that are conducive to healing and which serve as the location for social networks and therapeutic activity.

2. Engaging in these activities “creates a sense of flow”, which is a state in which people get so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. This “flow” helps individuals concentrate on the activity at hand, meaning that other concerns and worries are forgotten.

3. Activities “draw on social capital” through encouraging socialising and the building of social networks and reciprocal relationships, which, in turn, can contribute to positive health and wellbeing.

Health Means More than Just Not Being Sick

“A social prescription is not necessarily a replacement for medication – where needed – but it allows us to acknowledge that health and wellbeing can be more complex than ‘just’ a biological illness,” explained Dr. Kamal Mahtani, Associate Professor and Deputy Director of the CEBM, and a practising Oxfordshire GP. “There’s a range of social, environmental and economic factors that can affect someone’s health and wellbeing – things like stress or anxiety caused by financial hardship, or depression linked to social isolation. A social prescription might help facilitate a patient towards other help and support, for example, Citizens Advice or activity groups at local venues, including public gardens, museums and libraries.”


Turk A, Mahtani KR, Tierney S, Shaw L, Webster E, Meacock T, Roberts N. (2020) The full PDF report can be found here.

The Community Med School: A Study in Lifelong learning and Integrative Medicine

Here in the Denver Colorado area, we are currently working with the University of Denver’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute on a study of the effects of lifelong learning and integrative medicine on global health measures. Additionally, with assistance from University of Denver’s University College, we are using the latest advances in information technology and artificial intelligence to study the effects of lifelong learning in the real world.

We are assessing all of the following areas:

  • anxiety
  • depression 
  • fatigue
  • pain
  • physical function
  • sleep disturbance
  • ability to participate in social activities
  • cognitive function

Data from this study will be stored in the DU Qualtrics database and anonymized data will be assembled into an online data-verse.

The Data-verse shall be shared internationally through the PROMIS Health Measures Scoring Service, Harvard Dataverse, and the Oxford International Roundtable thus making the data available to researchers from around the world.

Opportunities Here in Denver

Museum of Nature and Science

Although the Denver Museum of Nature & Science is temporarily closed to the public to help slow the spread of COVID-19, it is offering a variety of virtual programs. Please see below for this week’s exciting line up, and look forward to weekly programming updates. All programs are FREE unless otherwise noted.

Lunch with Educators: Simple Science Questions

Tuesday, June 9, noon,

We’re changing up our weekly lunch with educators for a focus on simple science questions with Educator Performer Mitch Slevc.  Do you have science questions that you’re embarrassed to ask because they seem so simple?  Why is the sky blue?  How do planes fly? What happens to bread in a toaster?  While the questions may be simple, the answers are anything but!  Join us as Mitch tries to untangle these deep mysteries of science.

Virtual Tour of the Universe

Wednesday, June 10,
6:30 p.m.
Register here for families 
8 p.m.
Register here for adults only

No spaceship? No problem. From the comfort of your couch, space science educators Naomi, Mitch, and Jose will guide your family on a virtual adventure through the universe, starting with our home planet and voyaging into the solar system and beyond with the assistance of stunning scientific visualizations. Learn about our place in the universe, how we fit in the solar system, and the ways we are integrally connected to space!


We’re thrilled to announce that after being closed since March 17 to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, we are reopening for you on Friday, June 12. Thank you for your support during this time, and know that your safety continues to be our top priority.  

We’ve adopted a wide range of new measures to ensure the safety of our guests, employees, volunteers and animals—including enhanced cleaning procedures across our 80-acre campus, limiting crowd size, social distancing guideposts and strict employee protocols. 

Timed tickets are only available online, so please visit learn more and be among the first guests we welcome back. You may reserve tickets up to seven days in advance of your visit.