The Green Road, a two-acre outdoor healing environment for injured military service members and their families, opened Monday at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, home of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. One of the first of its kind on a military base, the Institute for Integrative Health initiative includes research to measure the Green Road’s healing effects on catastrophic injuries, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“The Green Road is a place to heal the body, strengthen the mind and reinvigorate the spirit,” said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), who spoke at the Green Road’s dedication ceremony. “By connecting with nature, injured service members can reconnect to themselves, their families and the country they fought for.”
PTSD and traumatic brain injury contribute to the despair that can lead to suicide. Anecdotal evidence suggests that spending time in nature has a positive impact on these conditions; however, very few scientific studies have examined these effects. Supported by a grant from the TKF Foundation, the Institute for Integrative Health and scientists from four institutions will work to fill that gap.
“We’re hopeful that findings of the Green Road research will lead to more effective, holistic treatments for service members and veterans suffering with traumatic injuries,” said retired U.S. Navy neurologist Frederick Foote, M.D., a scholar at the Institute for Integrative Health, who conceived the concept for the Green Road and managed its development.
The Green Road’s research team aims to shed light on the array of positive changes that occur throughout the body when a sick or injured person encounters nature. An initial study will measure four biomarkers of the stress response and mathematically combine them to produce the first single, whole-body stress metric in clinical use. Researchers will also assess the expression of genes related to PTSD and analyze stories and journals through qualitative language analysis and natural language processing.
The project’s researchers are from Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, College of Medicine, University of Arizona at Tucson; Benson-Henry Institute of the Massachusetts General Hospital; Consortium for Health and Military Performance, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences; and National Institutes of Health Clinical Center, Pain and Palliative Care Service.
“Our hope is that objective evidence for the therapeutic power of nature will inspire health care and policy leaders and spark the development of more green spaces,” said Brian Berman, M.D., president of the Institute for Integrative Health. “As a complement to the world-class medical care service members receive on the Navy base, the Green Road is a model for the future of whole-body wellness.”
Located between two main patient residence areas on the naval base, the Green Road features a natural stream, mature trees, a commemorative pavilion for honoring fallen warriors, a communal pavilion, and a streamside wheelchair/walking path. Seating areas include a circle of large stones, called a council ring.
Four design elements used in the site include a ‘portal,’ ‘path,’ ‘destination’ and ‘surround.’ Successfully used in the more than 130 urban green spaces that TKF Foundation has funded, they draw a visitor into a space, helping them experience a sense of being away and achieve an emotional separation from the stresses and challenges of life.
Each garden that TKF Foundation helps to create includes an iconic bench, a place of respite and where a visitor can pause and reflect. In partnership with the Maryland Correctional Enterprises, the benches are built by inmates who are learning fine carpentry skills to help them secure profitable and rewarding employment upon release from the Western Correctional Institution in Lavale, Md. The benches are made from reclaimed pickle barrel wood that is more than 100 years old and are an integral part the garden.
In addition, a specially created waterproofed journal and pen are located beneath the bench where visitors can articulate their experiences. The journal is a collection of inspiring thoughts and reflections and a connection between others as well as with nature.
The Green Road was created by a team of military service members, architects, engineers, landscape architects, and healthcare professionals. Design-build firm CDM Smith performed the engineering and construction. Collaborators on the Green Road’s design were CDM Smith, Alt Architecture, and the University of Maryland Landscape Architecture program under the direction of Jack Sullivan, FASLA.
About the Institute for Integrative Health
The Institute for Integrative Health, a non-profit organization based in Baltimore, was founded by Brian Berman, M.D., in 2007 to catalyze new ideas in health, understand the complex network of factors that influence health, and promote the well-being of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit www.tiih.org.
About TKF Foundation
TKF Foundation, a private nonprofit, believes everyone should have access to the benefits of nature and has funded the creation of more than 130 publicly accessible, urban green spaces for more than 20 years. These spaces, called Open Spaces Sacred Places, are meant to reawaken and reaffirm the powerful connection between nature, spirit and well-being. They were created in partnership with local organizations to increase a sense of community and contribute to a deepening of human connections. Most recently, the TKF Foundation issued its final six grants under its National Nature Sacred Awards program, which includes site creation and groundbreaking research studies across the country that examine the impact of nature on individuals and communities. To learn more, visit www.naturesacred.org.