Back to Top Skip to main content

Into the woods: Does nature nurture healing?

The Green Road nature site is tucked away on bustling Naval Support Activity Bethesda, Maryland. (Photo courtesy of Uniformed Services University) The Green Road nature site is tucked away on bustling Naval Support Activity Bethesda, Maryland. (Photo courtesy of Uniformed Services University)

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care | Suicide Prevention

Anne Frank wrote in her diary that nature provides “solace in all troubles.” Poet Lord Byron waxed about “a pleasure in the pathless woods.” President Calvin Coolidge said, “There is healing in the trees for tired minds and overburdened spirits. ... nature is your great restorer.”

Does nature really have healing powers? The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences’ Consortium for Health and Military Performance (CHAMP) is leading a team of researchers tackling this question. Their laboratory is the Green Road, a nature site tucked away on bustling Naval Support Activity Bethesda, Maryland. The base is home to the health sciences university as well as Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

“I’ve always relieved my stress by going outside to be in nature,” said Patricia Deuster, the CHAMP director who’s also a nationally ranked marathoner, skydiver, and former tennis pro. Deuster is lead investigator of the Green Road research team, which also includes the National Institutes of Health, the University of Arizona, and Massachusetts General Hospital.

The project is the brainchild of Dr. Frederick Foote, a retired Navy neurologist and former adjunct professor at the health sciences university. He put together a team to apply for funding from a nonprofit organization to study the healing effects of nature in populations that may be vulnerable to behavioral health issues. Studies have suggested traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder are risk factors for suicide in Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.

“The goals of the Green Road project are to provide empirical evidence for the healing power of nature in wounded warriors and their caregivers,” Foote said. “We also hope to inspire health care and policy leaders to incorporate green healing spaces throughout the Military Health System and civilian health care systems.”

More than 100 projects nationwide applied for the grants in 2013. The Green Road was one of six that received funding. Then, work to create the space began. An existing exercise path at Walter Reed Bethesda was expanded and widened, and 2 acres in the woods were cleared and redesigned to retain natural woodlands while including walking paths, landscaping, commemorative and communal spaces, and bridges that traverse a creek.

The total cost of the project was about $2 million, Foote said, adding that no public funds were used.

“It’s an absolutely extraordinary environment,” Deuster said, “and just a beautiful, beautiful place.”

The Green Road was dedicated as a research site in September 2016, but Deuster and her team are awaiting final construction approvals before research begins. They’re recruiting 50 to 60 participants who will complete questionnaires and baseline physiological evaluations before receiving heart rate monitors and navigation systems.

The study participants will take two walks: one out the back door of Building 53 directly onto a path leading to the Green Road site, and one out the front door and around the traffic-heavy, noisy campus. Their physiological responses to both environments will be evaluated to produce quantitative data, or statistics. They’ll also be interviewed about emotions and feelings they experienced during the two walks, to generate qualitative data.

Deuster said the research will take about a year to complete.

“I spend time in nature every day,” she said. “I know how healing it is for me, how it makes me relax and forget about all the stressful stuff. It will be interesting to see whether the quantitative data support the qualitative, that being in nature can have a tremendous impact on health and well-being.”

You also may be interested in...

Print PSA: Expanded Coverage for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders


Public service announcement you can print locally to help spread the word about the expanded coverage for mental health and substance use disorders.

Recommended Content:

TRICARE Health Program | Mental Health Care

Soldier uses school project to combat suicide

Ohio Army National Guard Capt. Michael Barnes talks to a Soldier about the Ohio Vet 2 Vet Network, a website and mobile app with information and resources for military veterans and their families to combat the risk factors of suicide among veterans. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Carden)

Army Capt. Michael Barnes is channeling his passion for helping veterans to get a master’s degree in nursing

Recommended Content:

Suicide Prevention

One small act can save a life

Suicide Prevention Month is a prime opportunity for the U.S. Department of Defense and the Military Health System to raise public awareness of suicide risk among Service members, Veterans and beneficiaries

There are no specific demographics associated with suicides, but there may be warning signs

Recommended Content:

Suicide Prevention

Retired Gen. Ham: I got emotional support. You can, too.

Then-Brig. Gen. Carter Ham (left) talks with the Army vice chief of staff, Gen. George Casey, after senior military leaders arrive in Mosul, Iraq, in June 2004.  (Courtesy photo)

Army leader got emotional help after Iraq deployment, then earned more stars

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care | Suicide Prevention

Resources, resiliency help military children turn away from suicidal thoughts

A note about social media written by one of the participants of an Air Force resiliency teen camp is displayed in a classroom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jared Trimarchi)

Children of military parents face some real challenges, such as frequent relocations, which can make them feel isolated and turn to thoughts of suicide; Find out more about how you can keep them resilient

Recommended Content:

Suicide Prevention | Children's Health

Suicide Prevention: Each of us has an important role to play

Keita Franklin, director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

Recommended Content:

Suicide Prevention

Experts talk knowledge translation benefits for Military Health System

The Military Health System Research Symposium is Defense Department's premier scientific meeting.

Dr. Richard Stoltz, Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury (DCoE) acting director, introduced the knowledge translation process and how using a systematic approach and best practices can impact military psychological health challenges.

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care | Research and Innovation

Improve your mental health with time away from work

A sailor assigned to U.S. Naval Support Facility Diego Garcia relaxes by sailing on a Pico sailboat near the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Marina. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ryan B. Tabios)

Taking a day off may present challenges, especially if you’re on active-duty, but planning a vacation is a good way to maximize mental health self-care

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care | Mental Wellness

PTSD treatment confronts the trauma behind the disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder is considered one of the “signature wounds” of the current conflicts in the Middle East. But many people may not know that there are highly effective treatments for this invisible wound. Scientifically researched and proven methods for treating PTSD work by getting the patient to confront and learn to process the trauma causing their symptoms. The process can start by talking with anyone, like a health care provider, chaplain or even just a friend. (U.S. Army photo)

Scientifically researched and proven methods for treating PTSD work by getting the patient to confront and learn to process the trauma causing their symptoms

Recommended Content:

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder | Mental Health Care

Healthcare Burdens Attributable to Various Mental Disorders, U.S. Armed Forces 2016

Did you know…? In 2016, mood disorders and substance abuse accounted for 25.9% of all hospital days. Together, four mental disorders – mood, substance abuse disorders, adjustment, and anxiety – and two maternal conditions – pregnancy complications and delivery – accounted for 53.6% of all hospital bed days. And 12.4% of all hospital bed days were attributable to injuries and poisonings. Here are the mental disorders that affected U.S. Armed Forces in 2016: Pie Chart titled Bed days for mental disorders in 2016: •	Mood Disorder (46,920 bed days) – the orange pie slice. •	Substance Abuse Disorders (44,746 bed days) – the blue pie slice. •	Adjustment Disorder (30,017 bed days) – the purple pie slice. •	Anxiety Disorder (20,458 bed days) – the gray pie slice. •	Psychotic Disorder (6,532 bed days) – the light blue pie slice. •	All other mental disorders (3,233 bed days) – the violet pie slice. •	Personality disorder (2,393 bed days) – the forest green pie slice. •	Somatoform (552 bed days) – the lime green pie slice. •	Tobacco dependence (2 bed days) – the white pie slice. Bar graph shows percentage and cumulative percentage distribution, burden “conditions” that accounted for the most hospital bed days, active component, U.S. Armed Forces 2016.  % of total bed days (bars) for mood disorder, substance abuse disorders, adjustment disorder, pregnancy complications; delivery; anxiety disorder; head/neck injuries, all other digestive diseases, other complications NOS; other back problems, all other signs and symptoms; leg injuries, all other maternal conditions; all other neurologic conditions; all other musculoskeletal diseases; all other skin diseases;  back and abdomen; appendicitis; all other infectious and parasitic diseases; all other cardiovascular diseases; all other mental disorders; all other respiratory diseases; arm/shoulder injuries; poisoning, drugs; foot/ankle injuries; other gastroenteritis and colitis; personality disorder; lower respiratory infections; all other genitourinary diseases; all other malignant neoplasms; cerebrovascular disease.  See more details on this bar graph in the Medical Surveillance Monthly Report (MSMR) April 2017 Vol. 24 No. 4 report, page 4. This annual summary for 2016 was based on the use of ICD-10 codes exclusively. Read more on this analysis at #LetsTalkAboutIt Background of graphic is a soldier sitting on the floor in a dark room.

This infographic documents the mental disorders that affected U.S. Armed Forces in 2016.

Recommended Content:

Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | Mental Health Care

How brain injury may affect communication skills

Laticia Jackson, a health educator, talks to a patient. Symptoms of communication disorders after a TBI can differ depending upon the type and severity of the injury. For many, problems with communication are the result of difficulties with attention and memory, such as not being able to follow a conversation, not with the ability to speak. (U.S. Navy photo by Jason Bortz)

How a service member communicates with others can change after a traumatic brain injury

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care | Traumatic Brain Injury | Mental Wellness

Navy Medicine East stresses pursuit of mental health a sign of strength

Navy Lt. Terrance Skidmore, a social worker, speaks to a patient during a one-on-one session. The month of May is designated Mental Health Awareness Month with the purpose of raising awareness about mental illnesses. (U.S. Navy photo by Ensign Courtney Avon)

Military life and its associated experiences can be especially challenging causing many service members and their families to experience various levels of stress

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care | Mental Wellness

Pentagon displays art from recovering wounded warriors

Retired Air Force Staff Sgt. Greg Miller and his wife Heather stand in front of Miller’s three-dimensional art made with wood screws now on display as part of the 2017 Pentagon Patriotic Art Program: Wounded Warrior Healing Arts Exhibit. (Courtesy photo)

Pentagon Patriotic Art Program: Wounded Warrior Healing Arts Exhibit is helping those affected with the visible and invisible wounds of war

Recommended Content:

Mental Health Care | Mental Wellness

DoD brain injury center opens more sites for military TBI care

Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health & Traumatic Brain Injury Logo

The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center recently added three new traumatic brain injury care network sites

Recommended Content:

Traumatic Brain Injury | DoD/VA Sharing Initiatives | Mental Health Care

Program offers holistic recovery tools to Soldiers with TBI

MIST Program participants engage in traditional and nontraditional therapies, such as creating symbolic masks. The MIST Program offers holistic treatment to service members with traumatic brain injuries and other traumatic conditions. (U.S. Army photo by Suzanne Ovel)

The holistic focus of MIST recognizes that the whole person is affected by brain injuries and the conditions that often accompany them

Recommended Content:

Military Hospitals and Clinics | Mental Health Care | Traumatic Brain Injury | Mental Wellness
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 9

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing: Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.