BALTIMORE, Md. – The Green Road, a two-acre outdoor healing environment for injured military service members and their families, recently opened at Naval Support Activity Bethesda, in Maryland, the 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 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.
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.
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.
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.