Researchers to Explore Hiking Benefits for Veterans

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Editor’s word: This story was initially revealed on October 22, 2018 and up to date on October 25, 2022.

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One fall day on Washington’s Mount Rainier, Josh Brandon and a gaggle of fellow lively obligation platoon leaders found one thing concerning the open air that would enhance the lives of veterans.

It was September 2009 and the group had determined to make a late-season summit try of Washington’s highest peak as a part of a team-building train. The platoon leaders, who have been all members of the identical infantry firm, started their climb within the early morning hours. Conditions have been windy—a storm was forecast for later that day. About midway up Disappointment Cleaver, the workforce paused to gather their bearings and a frontrunner was hit within the neck with a boulder, leading to a spinal contusion. Drawing on their earlier navy coaching, the group handled his damage and evacuated him to security by dusk.

“We figured out that mountaineering replicated the best parts of combat,” stated Brandon. “A small, tight group. Taking risks. Facing adversity. Out there in nature.”

A former U.S. Army infantry officer who served three excursions in Iraq, Brandon was awarded the Silver Star Medal and two Bronze Stars with Valor following his second deployment in 2006. He knew then that one thing was fallacious and suspected he had post-traumatic stress dysfunction (PTSD), however didn’t search an expert prognosis for 5 extra years. Brandon is among the many 11 to twenty p.c of veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan with PTSD. After his third deployment and 10 years of service, Brandon returned residence to Fort Lewis, Washington, in 2010.

Back within the Seattle space, Brandon resumed alpine climbing. The sport replicates one of the best components of fight, he says, in that it requires a workforce to work collectively to evaluate danger and overcome challenges. Soon Brandon was utilizing his journeys into the mountains to help different troopers like him, “I felt like I was continuing to serve [and] doing something good beyond what I did in war,” he says.

This expertise impressed Brandon to begin his personal nonprofit, Hound Summit Team, to supply alternatives for constructing confidence, bodily means and management on mountain expeditions for veterans with PTSD and combat-related accidents. In 2013, he partnered with the nationwide Sierra Club Military Outdoors program.

Over the subsequent 5 years, anecdotal proof of the facility of nature for these veterans teams started to pile up. Brandon observed contributors started to belief each other and develop a way of objective by means of the biweekly outside actions, which included mountain climbing, climbing and rafting.

The Hound Summit Team's inaugural climb.
Members of the Hound Summit Team stand atop Mount Baker throughout the group’s first profitable summit in 2011. (Photo Courtesy: Josh Brandon)

“At first, people might be standoffish or nervous,” Brandon says. “But it only takes one or two iterations before they build on that trust factor and start coming together as a group. Sense of belonging goes up. Then they physically get stronger and better. And the mental component gets easier.”

During their off weeks, a few of the veterans additionally began grabbing lunch or taking lessons collectively. “They were building small, healthy social groups and a sense of community,” Brandon says.

After collaborating in/finishing this system, Brandon reviews that a few of the veterans with PTSD, anxiousness or melancholy observed enhancements in self-confidence, diminished reliance on drugs and alcohol, and the advantage of having somebody with an identical background to speak to.

“I can tell feel-good stories or give high-fives for the rest of my life, but mental health care is a huge crisis in our country right now,” he says. In order to alter folks’s perceptions concerning the well being advantages of nature and develop efficient remedies for veterans with PTSD and different associated psychological well being circumstances, Brandon knew evidence-based analysis was wanted to again up the anecdotal proof he witnessed firsthand.

“There was almost zero data on it,” says Brandon. “You can only go to a member of Congress, a general or a CEO once and they want to see that information.”

In 2014, Brandon met Marc Berejka, then the director of group and authorities affairs for REI Co-op, at Outdoor Retailer—the largest commerce present within the outside trade. Berejka knew immediately that Brandon’s tales linked with what REI Co-op was already doing to amplify tutorial analysis analyzing nature’s influence on our bodily and psychological well being.

Brandon and Berejka agreed there was a chance to analyze the void round veterans and the outside. To make the analysis a actuality, they needed to undergo the scientific group. “It was a cool moment,” remembers Brandon. “Marc introduced me to some researchers at the University of Washington that wanted to measure what we were talking about.”

Josh Brandon in 2017. Now he's partnering with Greg Bratman and other researchers at the University of Washington to investigate the idea that hiking might help heal veterans with PTSD.
Josh Brandon in 2017. In 2018, he partnered with Greg Bratman and different researchers on the University of Washington College of the Environment to additional examine his commentary that wilderness mountain climbing has optimistic influence on veterans with PTSD. (Photo Courtesy: Josh Brandon)

Equipped with $100,000 in seed cash from REI, Brandon partnered with a analysis workforce in 2018 on the University of Washington College of the Environment to conduct a pilot research adopted by a full scientific trial analyzing the consequences of group-based expeditions with battle veterans affected by PTSD.

The workforce comprised an epidemiologist; a professor of nature, well being and recreation; a veteran; and a vet-turned-psychologist. “The questions we have are best answered with multiple viewpoints and disciplines,” says Greg Bratman, the professor on the workforce and the Doug Walker Endowed Professor. (Walker was a longtime co-op member and served on the board of administrators for REI Co-op.)

“Any time you have a team that’s coming together and cares about these questions, it’s exciting,” Bratman says.

During the spring of 2018, Bratman and his workforce carried out the primary pilot research with the purpose of defining and standardizing the mountain climbing procedures. Over a three-month interval, 12 veterans went on six hikes in Western Washington. This part included determining easy methods to facilitate group bonding, conduct hikes, handle logistics and make danger assessments.

After the primary research, Bratman reported a optimistic preliminary response from contributors: “Most people want to keep doing it. They’ve really bonded as a group. And our team will keep exploring whether this may help with these kinds of traumas—to form group bonds again and experience the therapeutic benefits as a result.”

The analysis continued with a second pilot research within the spring of 2019, which examined the protocol with a management group with extra questions and assessments. “What is it we need to control? How do groups move their bodies, and how do we measure that?” Bratman stated, providing examples. The workforce additionally requested extra particular inquiries to the group, like “Exactly what is feeling better and why? Are you experiencing benefits between hikes?”

Following the second pilot research, the workforce plans to conduct a full scientific trial, which might start as early as 2020. Depending on how that goes, they’ll search for methods to scale their work and produce it to different packages. “This stuff is directly applicable to the population at large,” stated Brandon.

“We want to shift the national narrative from the outdoors being a nice-to-have to a must-have,” Berejka stated. “Increasingly we understand that ready access to natural places strengthens the social fabric—time outdoors also is good for the heart, mind and soul.”


To advance understanding of how time spent in nature improves well-being, REI pledged $1 million to help the launch of an initiative inside the University of Washington’s EarthLab learning the hyperlink between human well being and time spent open air. The preliminary findings of Bratman and Brandon’s analysis analyzing the influence of nature on veterans with PTSD have been launched in September of 2021.

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