Spending time outside may seem like a simple, leisurely activity. But the experience of being outdoors has proven to be much more.
In "FOX Weather Reports: American Stories: The Healing Power of Nature", FOX Weather meteorologist Britta Merwin explores programs that use the outdoors to heal minds and hearts. You can watch it tonight at 10 p.m. EDT or on Saturday, August 6th and Sunday, August 7th at both 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. EDT.
From swimming with dolphins in Florida to paddleboard yoga and surfing in South Carolina to spending time with horses in New Jersey, the programs show the therapeutic and rejuvenating effects of nature.
"Your environment plays a big role," said Dr. John Whyte, chief medical officer at WebMD. He spoke with Merwin about the science behind the healing power of being outdoors.
"If you're in a stressful work environment or for me in an ER setting, there is a lot of noise. There's a lot of sounds and your body is releasing adrenaline and cortisol, and that's what you need in those environments," he said. "But when you're outside in nature, it's the opposite. So you're releasing those feel-good hormones."
Merwin experiences this first-hand when she travels to Folly Beach in South Carolina, where she meets with the Warrior Surf Foundation.
Warrior Surf is an organization that uses surfing as adaptive therapy for veterans and their families. They provide a free 12-week program to help veterans heal the internal wounds they may have experienced while serving.
"I’ve likened it to finding a wolf on the side of the road and bringing it into your house," said Stephanie Dasher, executive director of Warrior Surf and a veteran. "There’s nothing wrong with the wolf, there’s something wrong with where it’s been placed and the way it’s been placed there — and you just can’t do that."
"So, it’s important for boots on the ground organizations like ours to be there to help transition veterans back into communities," she added.
Dasher and her team show Merwin some of the things Warrior Surf teaches veterans as part of their program. In her documentary, Merwin first learns how to balance on a surfboard on land and then floats out into the water to apply those lessons.
Merwin also speaks with Tommy Williams, an Army veteran who went through the program.
"What does Warrior Surf Foundation mean to you?" Merwin asked.
"A new chance at life, a new start," Williams said.
"Being connected with nature, like a lot of our mental health comes from mother earth, being grounded, you come out here and you ground, you get in the water and it washes everything away," he added.
From the shores of South Carolina, Merwin ventures out to a farm in Saddle River, New Jersey, to learn about another program dedicated to helping veterans.
Called the Unbridled Heroes Project, the program rescues wild horses and pairs the horses up with veterans — in doing so, they help each other heal.
"You have to change your energy for [the horses] to be close to you," said Amy Steppe, who founded the Unbridled Heroes Project with her husband and fellow veteran Mark.
Steppe speaks to Merwin in "FOX Weather Reports: American Stories: The Healing Power of Nature" about her and her husband’s struggles to reincorporate themselves back into civilian life after serving. The trauma they experienced was their connection to the rescued wild horses, who also experienced their own traumas.
"It's very easy to be in the presence of an animal that is non-judgmental, that is intuitively loving," said Whyte. "I think all of the emotions that come from that relationship help to heal."
One of the veterans who experienced this healing through the horses of the Unbridled Heroes Project was Dan Caccavale. Caccavale spoke with Merwin about the role the horses played after he returned from serving.
"We all have that primal part in your heart that you're born with," Caccavale said. "I think there is that true connection with someone who is willing to literally give up their lives — there's a wild side of you. That primal part does connect with that primal part of that horse."
You can watch "FOX Weather Reports: American Stories: The Healing Power of Nature" tonight at 10 p.m. EDT or on Saturday, August 6th and Sunday, August 7th at both 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. EDT.