Patient Experience
Can virtual reality gardening help alleviate cancer patients’ symptoms? What is nature’s effect in easing workplace stress? Will exposure to urban green spaces improve pedestrian health?
While it’s long been recognized that connecting with nature is good for us, new research suggests that such exposure, even in controlled clinical or workplace environments, can have direct, measurable impact on our well-being. The Center for Health & Nature — a special partnership between Houston Methodist, Texas A&M University and Texan by Nature — aims to quantify links between the outdoors and relief from stress, physical pain, depression, high blood pressure and a host of other conditions.
Established in 2018, the center is the only known collaboration between a health system, a university and a conservation foundation for the study of nature as an innovative health care delivery system. Supported by a generous gift from the Kinder Foundation, researchers pursue evidence-based programs to explore how nature-based therapies influence public health and improve patient outcomes. One example is determining how virtual “windows” may offer a healing alternative in patient rooms.
Already, projects are yielding results and amplifying interest in the field. One pilot study being conducted at the center uses functional MRI to assess nature’s effect in alleviating workplace burnout, possibly leading to novel interventions to reduce employee anxiety. A recurring health and nature symposium will bring together global research experts to explore the effects of nature on human health and healing through strategic urban planning, including proximity to green spaces. And a rooftop garden planned for Centennial Tower, currently under construction on Houston Methodist’s main campus, will provide a “laboratory” for researchers to measure the impact of green expanses on health indicators.
Insight from these and other programs will inform best practices in health care and urban design as well as workplace wellness plans — confirming nature’s potent yet peaceful impact on patient wellness.