PTSD, the military and nature — new study published

As research on the influence of nature on various aspects of health continues at Walter Reed Military Medical Center, the nation’s flagship military hospital, a recently-released study by a team of Nature Sacred funded researchers there is again affirming nature’s positive impact on wellness.

What’s different about this study? Military involvement and interest.

The paper was published in the journal PeerJ. In it, a cross-disciplinary team of scientists reports on the results of an intervention that involved subjects taking two 20-minute walks; one on a busy campus road and one inside the Green Road, a wooded environment that encompasses a Sacred Place. Researchers conducted “semi-structured post-walk interviews” to document feelings and sentiments – both positive and negative. A quantitative assessment of distress and mindfulness was also conducted — in short, results showed that a walk on the Green Road “significantly decreased distress and increased mindfulness compared to a walk on the Urban Road.”

While these findings certainly apply to all people, the military realized a few years back, with the urging of voices like that of Fred Foote, MD, that nature exposure could be a means to address some of the most intractable health problems they are tackling — including PTSD.

Dr. Foote, a retired U.S. Navy physician, leads the Epidaurus Project at the Institute for Integrative Health (TIIH), which aims to integrate whole-person care in hospitals and clinics throughout the U.S. Military Health System.

It was Foote, joined by a diverse team of colleagues including Esther Sternberg, MD, Research Director at Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona.; Dr. Ann Berger, chief of the Pain and Palliative Care Service at the NIH Clinical Center; and Dr. Patricia Deuster, Professor and Director, with the Consortium for Health and Military Performance, who spearheaded The Green Road project working via TIIH. The idea behind the Green Road, one of only six National Nature Sacred Award site recipients, was to create an intentionally designed green space that would be used as a health intervention and to use the space as a study site for new research documenting nature’s role as a therapeutic. This PeerJ article is an output of that project.

According to the papers’ authors, though an extensive body of research exists providing evidence that green spaces have clear potential to reduce stress and improve health and wellbeing, prior to The Green Road, little research had been conducted to examine their effects in military installations.

Other Green Road studies are still underway.

“When an institution like the military is investing in initiatives like this — it’s certainly a sign for civilian hospitals to take note,” said Nature Sacred CEO Alden Stoner. “Nature is strong medicine.”