Ask any avid gardener, hiker, or birder why they’re drawn to their hobby, and they’ll probably describe in glowing terms how spending time in nature makes them feel. While individual experiences suggest that nature encounters offer therapeutic benefits, few objective studies have been conducted. The Green Road Project aims to to strengthen the base of evidence by scientifically measuring healing effects of exposure to nature.
The Epidaurus Project, an initiative supported by the Institute for Integrative Health and led by Scholar Dr. Fred Foote, developed five metrics for assessing whole-body healing. Researchers from the National Institutes of Health, the Uniformed Health Services University, and the University of Arizona will use three of the metrics to study participants’ responses to spending time on the Green Road.
Studies will look at biomarkers of stress, use natural language processing to analyze participants’ journals and stories, and examine changes in gene expression. Initial investigations will compare how participants respond to traveling (by foot or wheelchair) on two different routes across the naval base. One is the current high-traffic urban route, and the other takes them along the Green Road. Subsequent studies will chart the effects of longer visits in the Green Road’s garden area and measure responses to spending time in its commemorative pavilion.
The Green Road Project team hopes to scientifically demonstrate the positive impact of nature encounters on human health within three years. Objective evidence will advance the case for increasing community green space and making exposure to nature a therapeutic mainstay.
Other projects supported by the TKF Foundation’s National Nature Sacred Awards Program also have research components, and their teams are using different sets of metrics to measure their impacts. The rich harvest of data resulting from the studies will be of great value, not only for health professionals, but for architects, urban planners, and environmentalists. Ultimately, everyone stands to benefit from this groundbreaking research.
Blog post: A Holistic Path to Health: An Interview with Dr. Brian Berman. Open Voices Blog. October 2013.
Article: What are the Benefits of Interacting with Nature? Lucy E. Keniger, et. al. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Article: 'Eco-Therapy' for Environmental Depression. Bryan Walsh. Time magazine. July 28, 2009.
Book: The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder. Richard Louv. 2011.