After a few minutes on the hiking trail, Dr. Duna Goswami felt her stress lessen.
“It was like I was in a green tunnel. I could smell the fresh air. I could hear the water dripping from the trees,” she said.
The Abbotsford physician was one of nine cancer survivors who participated in a program designed by a University of the Fraser Valley kinesiology professor to see if nature has the ability to reduce anxiety levels.
Over eight weeks in September and October, the group met twice a week to hike in the Cultus Lake area.
Early results, based on interviews with the participants, seem to prove the oft-touted notion that nature really does soothe the soul.
“A number of them said it helped them realize how strong they were,” said lead researcher Dr. Iris Lesser. “When asked to rank their anxiety before and after the hike, we saw a drop in stress.”
There are likely several causes for that, not least of which is the experience of being in nature itself.
Lesser and her associates purposefully selected hikes that were not too difficult, but still lush and green.
“We asked participants if they thought it would be the same if they were doing a walk in the city, and they thought it wouldn’t be,” she said.
For Goswami, who finished treatments for breast cancer about a year ago, the setting made her feel peaceful.
“I might have gone hiking in the summer before, but not in the fall. It changed my view. I realized I could get outside even in the rain,” she said.
Goswami also reported several other benefits that proved common among participants. Hiking with a group of fellow cancer survivors provided support.
“Having cancer is isolating,” she said. “Even though you’re surrounded by people who want to help, it is nice to be with those who know what it is like, who understand.”
The physical exercise also brought benefits. During her treatment, which included chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, the physician felt ill and was unable to be active. For almost a year after, she still felt tired.
“I was working, but I was very tired,” she said.
Lesser said the benefits of exercise for stroke and cardiac patients are well known, but using exercise in cancer treatment is still a new field.
“We knew going in there might be several different factors at work in our results,” she said. “In an effort to untangle them, we tried to ask questions that were specific to each component.”
It appears clear that participants benefited from being in nature, as well as the social support and physical activity that hiking entailed.
The researcher was encouraged in her study by local oncologists who identified a gap in survivor care.
“They felt like patients should be better supported after treatment, but they didn’t have the time to help them navigate that part,” she said.
Lesser would eventually like to see a program for cancer survivors in the model of a support group that incorporates nature and physical activity.
In the meantime, she hopes to run another session in the spring to provide her with more data. The hikes will take place in the Chilliwack area. People can email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
CLICK HERE to report a typo.
Is there more to this story? We’d like to hear from you about this or any other stories you think we should know about. Email email@example.com