The Great Outdoors: Embracing the Positive Effects of Nature

The Great Outdoors: Embracing the Positive Effects of Nature


USBA embraces the The Great Outdoors - couple kayaking

Spending time in nature has a healing effect on most people – both physically and emotionally. This is especially true for military members and veterans of the armed forces. Evidence continues to accumulate that outdoor recreation can serve as therapy for combat veterans. Especially since some of the wounds soldiers return from battle with can be hard to see – and even harder to heal.

In a recent study, Enhancing the Well-Being of Veterans Using Extended Group-Based Nature Recreation Experiences, American veterans were surveyed before and after participating in multi-day, group-based outdoor experiences, including backpacking, canoeing, whitewater rafting, and fly fishing. The findings suggest that these group activities can have significant positive effects, especially for those struggling with serious health problems.

Embracing the outdoors
Organizations across the country host programs, like the ones mentioned above, that provide active military members and veterans the chance to enjoy outdoor recreation they might not otherwise. The Sierra Club, a California-based environmental organization with chapters across the country, offers a Military Outdoors program, which aims to improve the lives of veterans and their families through outdoor programs.

“We work toward having veterans and military members benefit from the healing power of the outdoors,” said Aaron Leonard, senior campaign representative with Sierra Club Military Outdoors. “They deserve a greater access to the same lands that they swore an oath to protect.”

There are currently nine chapters of the Sierra Club with Military Outdoors programs: Alaska, Angeles, Atlantic, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Loma Prieta, Michigan, and North Star. Many other organizations across the country offer or support outdoor therapy for veterans and active service members, including Veterans Expeditions, Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Warrior Expeditions, No Barriers Warriors, Huts for Vets, and Heroes Outdoor Therapy.

Create your own adventure
Soldiers and veterans don’t need a larger organization to reap the benefits of the great outdoors. A day hike, an afternoon of fishing, or a family camping trip are easy and accessible ways to embrace the benefits of nature. This country is filled with publicly available land to create an adventure unique to you — and many are available to active military service members and veterans for free.

As of 2022, current and former service members can obtain a FREE America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. The lifetime pass provides access to more than 2,000 federal recreation areas across the United States. Participating agencies include the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Forest Service, and US Army Corps of Engineers. The passes are available through the USGS Online Store or search the national list to find a participating agency near you to purchase one in person.

Preparation is key
Feeling inspired to get out there? Go for it — but every soldier knows preparation is essential to a successful mission. Whether you’re going at it alone or on an organized adventure, it’s important to be properly equipped. Before you set out on your hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, or even biking journey, check out these tips for making sure your adventure goes smoothly:

  • Plan ahead, and check the weatherDo your research! Choosing an appropriate destination and knowing what kind of weather you’ll be facing is critical to having a successful expedition.
  • Always bring the essentialsDon’t be caught in an avoidable situation. Be prepared with the basics: a map of your locations or destination, a fire starter or matches, a simple first aid kit, an Army knife or multi-tool, a flashlight (with fresh batteries), and sunscreen (even when it’s cold).
  • Sufficient supply of food and waterFuel your journey! Whether it’s a half-day hike or a night of camping, it is important not to underestimate how much food and water you will need to maintain your energy. 
  • Get the right gearComfort is key. From boots and socks to sun protection and warm layers, be prepared to be comfortable in your environment and any potential physical challenges.
  • Charge your phoneMother Nature doesn’t have a charging station. While it might sound counterintuitive, you never know when you’ll need to rely on technology, so make sure you are charged up, and maybe even pack a backup battery!
  • Pace yourselfIt’s the journey, not the destination! Move at a pace you’re comfortable with, soak in the scenery, and stop for breaks when you need them. 

Get inspired and get outside! Your body and mind will thank you for it.

USBA is a not-for-profit Association that provides group life insurance, health insurance supplements, and other products and services to military personnel, Federal employees, National Guard and Reserve members, Veterans and their families.

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