Monday, August 12, 2013

Military Veterans and the Outdoors



A few weeks ago, I was excited to learn about a new study involving military veterans and the outdoors, conducted by researchers Jason Duvall and Rachel Kaplan at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment.

The results? Veterans who participated in outdoor programs—specifically multi-day camping and hiking trips—reported an improved sense of mental wellbeing, as well as feeling less socially isolated. (In the interest of full disclosure, the study was funded by the Sierra Club, which runs the Military Family and Veterans Initiative, an outdoor program for veterans and their families.)

I was not surprised by the results—they align with what I hear every day from the veterans I talk to: that being in nature—whether it’s camping, hiking, biking, canoeing, fishing, farming and gardening, or spending time with animals such as horses and dogs—is helping them to manage their post-traumatic symptoms, and to feel more connected to their communities and life in general. And in many ways, the study’s results parallel the other research I’ve been writing about in this blog.

But a common problem I hear from veterans is that despite their anecdotal reports, there’s very little funding available for these types of activities. And why is there no funding? Because according to the funders (not the veterans), there’s no proof that these activities work(!).

So that’s why this study is exciting. It focuses specifically on veterans, and provides the numbers and proof that funders require. In fact, the reason the Sierra Club sponsored this research was to study whether their Military Family and Veterans Initiative and similar programs were benefiting veterans. From the anecdotal stories of veteran participants, the Sierra Club knew that their programs were important, but hoped that quantitative analysis and results would further support their work.

Most interesting? Many of the veterans continued to experience an improved sense of wellbeing a month after their excursion, and those who were suffering the most seemed to report the most improvement. The researchers acknowledge that more studies are necessary, but this one, at least, is a start.


References:

Duvall, Jason and Rachel Kaplan. (2013). Exploring the Benefits of Outdoor Experiences on Veterans: Report prepared for the Sierra Club Military Families and Veterans Initiative. Retrieved from:

U-M study of veterans finds links between outdoor activities, improved mental health. Retrieved from:

U-M, Sierra Club to study links between outdoor experience, veterans’ mental health. Retrieved from:

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