Nature in Practice Panel – 2020 Health & Nature Symposium

Nature in Practice—Clinical Solutions for Our Health and Well-Being:

The Center for Health & Nature hosted the 2020 Health & Nature Symposium: Collaborating for a Healthier Future on October 7, 2020. The symposium brought together over 225 researchers, medical practitioners, and conservationists for a one-day virtual event that discussed the effect nature has on our health and well-being not only within a healthcare setting, but in the communities we live in and places we work.

The event started with the panel, “Nature in Practice”, highlighting research showing the effect nature has on prevention, treatment, and recovery of patients and how nature can maximize optimal mental and physical health outcomes for patients and the medical teams that treat them.

The panel keynote, John Henderson with Park Rx America, discussed Park Rx programs that work with health and social service providers to prescribe time in nature to their patients to improve their physical, mental, and emotional health. Through their work, they have revealed that success is dependent upon not only the personal behaviors and habits of the patient, but the doctors as well. Medical personnel plays a key role in the success of these programs and their personal behavior’s influence their willingness to prescribe time in nature to their patients. Continued clinical studies will continue to strengthen the case for nature as a prescription and provide the data needed to help change behaviors.

The two research studies presented in this panel provide science-based evidence that show nature’s positive effect on stress and pain during cancer treatment, and whether virtual exposure to nature can fill the gap when real nature is not available.

Virtual Reality Gardening and Stress Prevention for Oncology Patients; Bring Nature Indoors

Renee Stubbins, Ph.D. – Senior Oncology Dietitian, Houston Methodist

This study researched the impact of nature on patient pain, distress, anxiety, and fear while undergoing chemotherapy infusion. Patient groups received their treatments in one of three environments—a traditional windowless treatment room, a room with a garden view, and a room with a virtual reality nature experience. Data collected from patients showed both the garden view and exposure to nature through virtual reality resulted in significant reductions in pain levels and stress of patients during infusion as opposed to those in a traditional treatment room. They also saw prolonged benefits between treatments. Elderly patients interestingly favored virtual reality over window exposure to nature during their treatment sessions. These findings show the potential for nature to be used as a supplement for reducing some of the negative side effects experienced by cancer patients.

Influences of Virtual Window on Hospital Patients’ and Caregivers’ Health & Well-Being

Dr. Zhipeng Lu, Ph.D., LEED AP BD+C – Associate Director, Center of Health Systems & Design and Senior Lecturer, Department of Architecture, Texas A&M University

Extended time spent in windowless environments has shown to have negative impacts on health and well-being by creating negative feelings of isolation, entrapment, and tenseness, leading to increased stress levels. In a hospital setting, stress not only has a negative effect on patients, but also the medical staff providing care. This research is investigating whether virtual windows will help influence patient and caregiver well-being when windows are not an option. The study is specifically looking at results in a hospital setting and will compare nature still photos to nature photos with movement. Results of this study could directly impact future design of building environments where windows are not possible and help reduce stress for patients and caregivers.

The symposium was hosted by the Center for Health & Nature and is a partnership among Texan by Nature, Houston Methodist Hospital, and Texas A&M University. The Center drives research that quantifies the benefit of nature on our health and well-being, developing science-based programs for healthier populations.

Read more from our blogs featuring the second panel – Communities in Nature and the third panel – InCorporating Nature. Check out all of the presentations from the 2020 Symposium on our website and on our YouTube channel.