Route Step Outdoors
Manager: David Konkler
Route Step Outdoors engages Veterans through outdoor activities such as hiking, snowboarding, and cycling, plus a dynamic Vision Fast program. Utilizing peer support and environmental stewardship, we let the healing powers of the great outdoors help us empower Veterans to heal themselves.
Ecotherapy is based on the idea that people are connected to, and impacted by, the natural environment. A growing body of research highlights the positive benefits of connecting with nature.
In one study conducted by psychologist Terry Hartig, participants were asked to complete a 40-minute cognitive task designed to induce mental fatigue. Following the task, participants were randomly assigned 40 minutes of time to be spent in one of three conditions:
- walking in a nature preserve,
- walking in an urban area, or
- sitting quietly while reading magazines and listening to music.
Participants who had walked in the nature preserve reported less anger and more positive emotions than those who engaged in the other activities. In a similar study conducted by Mind, a mental health charity organization, a nature walk reduced symptoms of depression in 71% of participants, compared to only 45% of those who took a walk through a shopping center.
The beneficial effects of nature result not only from what people see but from what they experience through other senses as well. For example, in one recent study, participants recovered more quickly from psychological stress when they were exposed to nature sounds (from a fountain and tweeting birds) than when they were exposed to road traffic noise. In another study, food and fruit fragrances inhaled by hospital patients resulted in reduced self-reports of depressive mood.
Nature meditation: This meditation takes place in a natural setting, such as a park, and is sometimes done as a group therapy. Members of the group may identify something in nature which attracts them and then spend a few minutes contemplating how this aspect of nature relates to them and what they can learn from it. For example, an elderly person struggling with feelings of worthlessness might develop greater self-respect after meditating on how the older trees in a forest provide shelter for birds and shade for younger plants. The activity usually ends with group members sharing what they learn.
Horticultural Therapy: The use of plants and garden-related activities can be used to promote well-being. Activities may include digging soil, planting seedlings, weeding garden beds, and trimming leaves. This type of intervention may be recommended in cases of stress, burnout, and substance abuse, as well as in cases of social isolation among the elderly. Programs such as Thresholds, a Chicago-based mental health agency, has also helped military veterans experiencing posttraumatic stress through horticultural and ecotherapies.
Animal-Assisted Therapy: In animal-assisted therapy, one or more animals is introduced into the healing process. Some studies have demonstrated that petting or playing with a dog, for example, reduces aggression and agitation in some populations.
Physical Exercise in a Natural Environment: This can include activities such as walking, jogging, cycling, or doing yoga in a park. These types of activities foster increased awareness of the natural world and are sometimes recommended for reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and anger.
Involvement in Conservation Activities: The act of restoring or conserving the natural environment can assist in creating a sense of purpose and hopefulness. Since this activity is usually done in groups, it may also help foster a sense of belonging and contentedness while simultaneously improving one’s mood.