Is nature healing? U.S. military aims to find out

The U.S. military, which you might not normally associate with tree-hugger types, is aiming to find out if nature does indeed possess healing powers, according to the Department of Defense.

The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences is launching a collaborative study that will attempt to scientifically measure the physical and mental effects of being outdoors in a peaceful setting, it announced today.

Why now?  The military has operated a project dubbed the Green Road over the past several years.  As part of that, architects and engineers built a nature path that weaves through woods near living quarters for long-term patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda. The path is used by patients and their caregivers to “enjoy a breathtaking view” of the woods.  White-tailed deer are known to bob through.  Birds chirp near a gurgling water fountain situated beside a stream. Walter Reed has one of six Green Road sites nationwide.

Officials noticed positive benefits of the tranquility on patients. Now researchers hope to back that observation up with hard data.

They plan to measure the heart rates and biomarkers contained in the sweat of patients who use the natural area at Walter Reed.  They’ll compare that data against patients who spend time in busier parts of the complex, said Patricia Deuster, a professor at the university’s Consortium for Health and Military Performance.

Her researchers are looking for study participants, including wounded warriors and their caregivers.  Participants will also answer a questionnaire that gathers psychological information.

Deuster calls the Green Road site “a place where you can go and recover, restore who you are … forget about the stressors of life for a moment, and just allow your body to relax and regenerate.”

“Our hope is to show that nature does have an effect on the population and caregivers,” Deuster said.

Researchers also hope the results will have applications for civilians, such as showing the importance of regularly exposing children and the elderly to the outdoors.