Flag Planting

In this file photo from May, Mike Vincent, a Navy veteran, plants flags at Citizens Cemetery in preparation for Memorial Day.

Taylor Mahoney Arizona Daily Sun

I have written John McCain about setting up a camp near Flagstaff for veterans returning from the war zones and suffering stress as a result.

He may be too busy at the moment to respond. The Reader's Digest April 2017 issue has an article titled "The Nature Cure." There is scientific evidence now of what the poets have known all along -- that nature actually heals. Doctors from California to South Korea have found a miracle medicine for our mental health and creativity. The catch? You have to go to a forest or park to fill the prescription.

The salutary effect of nature on the mind and body has a long history.

More recently Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Muir built a case for creating the first national parks by claiming nature’s healing powers for both mind and body. There was no hard evidence back then. There is now.

Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School in England found that people living near more green space reported less mental stress. Dutch researchers found a lower incidence of 15 diseases -- including depression, anxiety, and migraines -- in people who lived even within a half-mile of green space. Physiological changes take place. Cortisol levels go down --cortisol that creates anxiety and depression.

Richard Mitchell at the University of Glasgow found fewer deaths and less disease in people who lived near green spaces even if they didn't use them.

Japanese researchers sent 280 subjects for a stroll in 24 different forests while the same number walked around city centers. The forest walkers hit the anti-anxiety jackpot showing 16 percent decrease in the stress hormone cortisol.

South Korean researchers found that volunteers looking at city scenes showed more blood flow in the amygdala, which processes fear and anxiety. Nature scenes did just the opposite.

In Finland, to counter the high rates of depression, alcoholism, and suicide, doctors prescribe a minimum of five hours per month in green space. A 40-50-minute walk seems to be enough for physiological changes and mood changes. There is a healing forest in South Korea where instructors take you hiking through red maples, oaks and pine trees.

Forty firefighters stressed out from fighting a fire in the Philippines stayed there for three days. The government sponsors the program. One firefighter said he wanted to stay a month.

We have beautiful parks here in Flagstaff if getting out of town isn't convenient. I intend to use Buffalo Park more. My primary idea at the moment is to get a camp built for returning veterans to stay as long as they want. Warrior Expeditions is an organization that takes veterans on hikes. I met a female veteran who hiked the Appalachian Trail 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine and that healed her. But we need a place veterans can stay for a while and be with other veterans and hike trails and return in the evening for a communal meal and conversation.

Bob Bowser is a Flagstaff resident.

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