“Had I not started climbing,” explained Stacey Bare, Director of Sierra Club Outdoors, “I’m pretty confident I wouldn’t be here.” Upon returning from his military service in Iraq, The North Face ambassador struggled to find purpose. In the video below, Stacy shares his journey as a veteran and how climbing has saved his life.

Time Outdoors:  A Cure for Trauma

At the recent Bay Area Open Space Council conference, Stacey talked about the connection between nature and health.  Stacey believes time outdoors is a cure for trauma;  his work builds on the concept of park prescriptions, introduced at the conference several years ago.

As summarized in a recent blog post by HIPCAMP, Stacy is taking the concept in a new and expanded direction, aiming to reorient the way America does health care by “redefining our public lands — all of our lands — as our largest and best public health and preventative health care system.”    To accomplish this feat takes a great deal of research.  Therefore he has combined forces with the Greater Good Science Center and the University of California-Berkeley to create the Great Outdoors Lab.

Great Outdoors Lab:  What does it take for time outside to be a clinical treatment for trauma?

Stacey’s passion for his work shines through as he speaks.  He explained, “I’d like for a park prescription to be something that a doctor might prescribe for a specific condition or issue.” According to Stacey, currently Sierra Club and Great Outdoors Lab are working through the question: “What does it take for time outside to be a clinical treatment for trauma?” He wants to get to a place where the public can use its insurance and a co-pay for an outdoor experience or outdoor gear.

Over the past two summers, the Great Outdoors Lab has successfully initiated a program of research to begin to test its hypotheses that outdoors experience improves physical, mental, and social well-being; and the emotion of awe is an important mechanism driving these effects. The Draft Great Outdoors Lab Research Summary summarizes the data that has already been collected and details promising findings that have emerged.  Last summer analyses of 17 veterans indicated they reported decreased levels of PTSD symptoms (-35%) and stress (-15%), measured by items selected from the PTSD-checklist (PCL) and Perceived Stress Scale, respectively.

He concluded, “We have a lot of work to do–but there’s a lot of hope in that work as well!”

Nature = Happier

Dr. Daphne Miller spoke about her work on park prescriptions at the Open Space Council conference several years ago.  “Nature has the possibility to be a health care intervention, a prescription, almost like a pill. In many of the studies, there is a dose response relationship.  The more you get, the better the outcome,” explained Dr. Miller.  A recent blog post from Great Good Science Center articulates many reasons how nature can make us kinder, happier and more creative:

  • Being in nature decreases stress
  • Nature makes you happier and less brooding
  • Nature relieves attention fatigue and increases creativity
  • Nature may help you to be kind and generous

Implications for the Land Conservation Community

Altar1Stacey has a big call to action for the land conservation community and a challenge–to see the bigger connection between land and health. “I think those of us working in land conservation, preservation, enhancement and access need to see ourselves as stewarding our nation’s largest health care system,” articulated Stacey.

He continued, “We can’t, however, just prove that time outdoors has concrete health benefits. We all need to be doing a better job ensuring people have equitable access to time outdoors and significantly increasing the diversity of those who are representing recreation and conservation, as well as those who are using the land.”  According to Stacey, we can’t prove land is part of health care and then not work to end access disparities. He called upon the land conservation community to support transportation access for all people, public or private, to parks, land trusts and other open spaces.

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