Our nation’s veterans are no strangers to sacrifice.
They sacrifice time with their loved ones, the normalcy of everyday life, and in the worst cases, their lives. Spending time in nature can help veterans reconnect with the experience of positive emotion, and develop a renewed sense of awe, and appreciation for the outdoors.
According to a recent study by the Sierra Club, involving researchers from Veterans Affairs and the University of Michigan, there is a link between outdoor activities and long-term psychological well-being. More than half of the veterans involved in the study had reported mental and physical health issues interfering with their lives.
During the study, the veterans took part in one of 12 programs; they selected activities from fly-fishing, kayaking, whitewater rafting, backpacking, and other various outdoor experiences. Researchers studied the veterans one week before, one week after, and one month after their organized group wilderness experience.
Out of the 73 Veterans who participated, 45 completed a post-experience questionnaire after their outing. They collectively reported a greater than 10 percent improvement in psychological well-being, a 9 percent increase in social functioning, and a nearly 8 percent gain in positive life outlook.
"The findings suggest that extended group-based nature recreation can have significant positive impacts on Veterans struggling with serious health problems," said Dr. Jason Duvall, a research scientist at the University of Michigan and one of the study's lead authors. "Although more research is needed and many questions remain, the use of extended group-based outdoor recreation programs to ease Veterans' transition back into civilian life seems to be a promising approach."
Veteran Cody Roberson, from ArmyBassAnglers, recognized the need for veterans to spend time outdoors, while also noting the lack of designated programs in the outdoor space for service members. “I was dealing with PTSD and wanted be outdoors,” Cody says. “It's not about just helping one service member, but instead, connecting service members with veteran-owned businesses, and other partners. We’re trying to create many trifectas and one giant spider web with the same mission and goal, helping better the lives of veterans after their service to their country.”
Veterans can find healing in outdoor spaces while helping them ease the transition back into civilian life. “Whether it be fishing or mountain biking, the competitiveness of outdoor activities provides a bit of the adrenaline you had in the military,” says veteran and Wiley X employee, Michael Magnan. “Having that competitive aspect, where your sole focus is on the sport, brings some excitement back into your life.”
“I think the most important thing is to take your mind off things,” Michael says. “It allows you to focus on the present and be in the moment. It also allows you to kind of detox, decompress, and solely focus on what you're doing the at the time.”
Michael spends much of his free time fishing or mountain biking. “I enjoy activities that take up all my energy. That’s the big reason I mountain bike, all I can do is focus while screaming down the hill. It allows me to take my mind off things.”
These findings and testimonials indicate veterans with severe mental and physical health issues may find solace in outdoor programs. The positive results found within these programs are directly connected to spending time in restorative natural environments. Additionally, personal challenges and companionship with other veterans play an important role.
The use of extended group-based outdoor recreational programs helps to ease veterans’ transition back into civilian life. Wiley X works with many non-profits who offer programs designed to help veterans ease back into regular life while exploring the great outdoors. Wiley partners with Operation Fishing Freedom, Casting Freedom, Fishing with America’s Finest and ArmyBassAnglers. They are on a mission to better the lives of veterans and their families. Look into programs in your area for volunteer opportunities and other ways to support those who served to protect this country.