Nature, Adults, Healing

How many times over the past few years (or, for that matter, the 18 years and four months of our Friday moments with this column in the Ellensburg Daily Record) have we tossed around the importance of getting kids – those emissaries we send into a time we will never see – connected with the earth and Mother Nature? Study after study has reminded us of the physical and emotional benefits of those strong connections.

A few weeks ago, I was reminded of the benefits of those connections to adults, too. It takes little digging to find a fair amount of information. Have you seen Gerald G. May’s book, The Wisdom of Wilderness: Experiencing the Healing Power of Nature? Maybe you stumbled across the March 1998 article “Nature as medicine: the healing power of the wilderness,” by D. Cumes, in the bimonthly peer-reviewed medical journal Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. More likely you saw last summer’s Time Magazine piece, “The Healing Power of Nature,” which reported on the work of Japanese and other researchers on the important health benefits of humans being surrounded by nature. You can support work on these connections, yourself.

Let me introduce you to Erin Cooper – and her story.

“Warm Greetings… I am a veteran who served 3 tours in Iraq and 1 in Afghanistan. I have been blown up a few times and fell 40 feet off a mountain while in Afghanistan. I was in the hospital for 30 days after the fall and sustained a moderate traumatic brain injury (TBI). After I was released, from the hospital, I started hiking to my ability and over time could go out for days of hiking. My memory, perception and concentration were poor at best, but I began to notice my cognition improved with every long distance hike. I improved so much that I was dropped from a medical review board that would have medically retired me from the Army, and I deployed to Iraq again. In 2013, I was honorably discharged from the Army. I started having PTSD-like symptoms, so I decided to hike the Appalachian Trail to see if hiking would help with those symptoms as well; it did. I was a new person afterwards and began college at Washington State University as a neuroscience major. I will graduate this year with a Bachelor’s Degree in Neuroscience.

“I am now at a point where I can use science to understand what physiological changes are happening in the body during long distance hiking that helps to alleviate PTSD and TBI. This summer I am taking a group of combat veterans with me on the Pacific Crest Trail. I would like to collect saliva to monitor hormone levels and how they change along the way. This is a simple, noninvasive technique. The tests, however, are $300 each and I would need one for each person (4 subjects and 4 controls) and one for each type (2 – cortisol and melatonin) of hormone tested. The total cost for just the tests is $3300 for the assays and an as-yet-to-be-determined fee for the analysis. Any amount that you might be able to contribute to this endeavor would be very much appreciated.

“There is still a lot that science and medical personnel do not know about these debilitating disorders; people who served their country honorably are given medications created for people with schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder and severe depression to mask their symptoms. Often times, this makes the disorder worse and mentally unhinges the person to the point of suicide or institutionalization. This study is geared toward understanding how the body regulates itself by being back in nature and exercising for an extended period of time. Hormone regulation is essential to moods, brain function, and protein synthesis; by showing that these levels change as symptoms are alleviated, new therapies may be developed to treat PTSD and TBI specifically.

“Thank you for your time, Erin Cooper”

Erin and the folks who will help her are not looking for some sort of magic cure. Yet, we know that our brains evolved during eons of hiking, walking and gathering. Perhaps this long-distance hiking will get folks back to fundamentals and allow bodies to begin a return to what they have done naturally for countless centuries in natural environments.

If you want to be part of this interesting and important “experiment” with nature, check out Erin’s GoFundMe page and support her work to help our combat vets be as healthy as we all want them to be. The link is: gofundme.com/veterans-walking-for-science

A critical part of rearing kids who will fight for our wild places in generations to come, it seems to me, is making the most of those wild places today. You can be part of something important.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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