Service Members and veterans receiving treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) will soon have access to a woodland oasis where they can experience the healing calm of nature to aid their recovery from catastrophic injuries and illness.
The Green Road Project, an initiative of the Institute for Integrative Health, is scheduled for completion next fall, offering service members and their families a 1.7-acre natural haven in which to connect and spend time in quiet contemplation, away from a routine of medical appointments and rehabilitation. Once the Green Road opens, researchers on the project team will conduct a study to measure its impact on healing.
The Green Road is the brainchild of Institute Scholar Fred Foote, MD, a retired U.S. Navy neurologist and long-time champion for complementing conventional medicine with exposure to nature and the arts.
“We believe and have evidence to support that if you bring a sick or injured person into a natural environment, it lowers their stress and speeds their healing,” said Dr. Foote. “That’s especially true for the invisible wounds of war: brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Service members' injuries, both visible and invisible, can take a long time to heal. Many patients and their families spend months on the campus, staying in one of the 400 long-term living units at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, the military base where WRNMMC resides.
The Navy is constructing a wheelchair-accessible path that will connect these patient residences to the Green Road’s primary garden, forming a half-mile vehicle-free route across campus.
The garden, to be constructed by the Institute and its partners, will include a communal pavilion for informal gatherings, a streamside path, and a commemorative pavilion for remembering and honoring fallen comrades. Benches, a council ring where Warriors can share stories of valor and loss, and a soothing water feature will enhance the Green Road’s naturally therapeutic environment.
Measuring Nature’s Healing Power
The Institute and its partners will conduct a research study to quantify the healing effects of spending time on the Green Road. Scientific evidence will advance the case for integrating exposure to nature into the prevention and treatment of illness.
“Viewing scenes of nature has been shown to lower blood pressure, respiration rates and the production of stress hormones,” said Institute President Brian Berman, MD. “Nevertheless, the health benefits of nature encounters are under-investigated and under-valued. That’s why advancing the scientific evidence for nature’s healing impact is so important.”
The study will involve examining biomarkers of the stress response, qualitative analysis of journals and stories using natural language processing, and advanced genomics. The research design is under review by the Institutional Review Board of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences.
“When people come into close contact with nature, it has a way infusing their spirit and bringing them closer to their own true nature,” said Dr. Berman. “The impact of that on their psychological well-being, their emotions, and their mental state can be profound. The result of all this can be physical healing. We’re hopeful the Green Road Project’s research will shed light on this process.”
A Green Road dedication ceremony is planned for September 2016. Donors, military dignitaries, veterans, Wounded Warriors, and their families will be invited to enjoy the Green Road’s beauty at this ceremony and experience the powers of nature.
Note: This post was updated March 15, 2016. It initially reported the dedication would be in June 2016.