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The Summit Within

Since our earliest history, humans have turned to nature in times of crisis. In 2023, Smithsonian Magazine reported how the Ancient Greeks used to visit natural springs to recoup their energy; horticulture therapy was prescribed for returning soldiers in the First and Second World Wars; the first person to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail was an army veteran, Earl Shaffer, who wanted to ‘walk the war out of my system’. In the wake of a global pandemic, we’re seeing an increased appreciation of nature as solace yet again. 


Spending time in nature is an important part of mental wellbeing — and there is a body of evidence to show us why. In 2018, local GPs working for the NHS ran a pilot study in the Shetland Islands to see whether prescribing time outdoors would make any difference to the health outcomes of their patients. The results were conclusive: 74% of patients said that they benefited from the additional time spent outside; 91% of health professionals saw enough change to want to offer ‘green prescriptions’ as part of wider treatment plans. 


Time outdoors also facilitates social cohesion and support structures. For veterans returning from war to civilian or non-active military life, that can be a lifeline. Organisations such as The Invictus Games Foundation The Invictus Games Foundation are rooted in the belief that sports and adventurous challenges provide important tools in the recovery of injured veterans from trauma, including PTSD. Spending time in the wild — especially in a group — presents us with challenging situations, brings a sense of perspective, and builds resilience and confidence.


One such example is an expedition carried out in the summer of 2023, led by former Parachute Regiment officer and explorer Levison Wood.  As part of The Invictus Games Foundation’s ‘Beyond the Games’ programme, ten military veterans from far-flung countries including France, Italy, the UK and the Netherlands, travelled to Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park. They undertook a mountaineering trip to summit Mount Herard, a 4,000m peak in the Rocky Mountains, and cross the tallest sand dunes in North America.  



It’s not just veterans who can benefit from group support systems. In 2023, Nicky Wager set up a hiking-based support group for women suffering from endometriosis after she discovered how time in nature helped her find both physical and emotional relief from her condition. With backing from organisations ranging from the National Trust to Merrell® Shoes, her annual walks have been gathering interest year on year. 


The psychological benefits have a scientific cause: spending time outdoors has been proven to help address conditions as varied as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, social isolation, stress and anxiety. With a new wave of research, one thing has become clear: nature-centric environments are key to maintaining strong mental and planetary health – whether in the green spaces near our front door, or the tight folds of Colorado’s dunes.



Image credits: Alberto Caceres, Roo Smith, Nicky Wager