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Texas A&M Health, Houston Methodist formalize agreement to fund Center for Health & Nature

New funding commitment from the founding organizations will help advance the center’s research and education on how nature impacts human health

Texas A&M University Health Science Center (Texas A&M Health) and Houston Methodist have formalized an agreement to support the Center for Health & Nature. The agreement establishes core funding for the center, which drives research to study the impact of nature on health with evidence-based programs that complement the full continuum of health care: prevention, treatment and recovery.

“It is nice to see the strong vision and commitment of the three organizations,” said Bita Kash, PhD, MBA, FACHE, co-director of the center, a collaboration between Texas A&M Health, Houston Methodist and Texan by Nature. “As someone who researches health outcomes, health policy and management, it is quite exciting to have the infrastructure to build a research team around understanding nature as an intervention, as the medicine towards better health outcomes.”

As part of the agreement, Texas A&M Health and Houston Methodist will each commit $125,000 per year to support the center. The funding will be used to hire dedicated leadership to create community connections, accelerate research and foster collaborations. Although the center has been engaged in research and education since it first launched in 2018, this new core funding will strengthen and focus the center’s work.

“A lot of what we’re doing at the center is establishing the relationship between improvement in human health and time spent in nature,” said Jay Maddock, PhD, FAAHB, co-director of the center. “There’s a lot of questions around that in terms of for who and for how long. We want to know what aspects of nature are essential—sounds, smells, sights. Does virtual reality have a similar impact? And the second question is how do we encourage people to spend more time in nature?”

It may feel intuitive that nature is good for our health, but scientific evidence is still being compiled to support the idea. The goal of the Center for Health & Nature is to substantiate the link between nature and enhanced health. The result of the center’s research will be to produce evidence-based programs that can be used alongside traditional therapies to enhance healing, prevent disease and improve recovery from illness or injury, both within the health care setting and as part of lifestyle intervention. These programs will impact patients with a wide range of illnesses and conditions as well as health care workers.

“Conserving nature is good for everyone,” said Cynthia Pickett-Stevenson, Board Chairman of Texan by Nature. “Texan by Nature believes that our long-term health and prosperity are dependent upon our natural resources. The evidence provided by the Center for Health & Nature will further prove the benefit of caring for these resources as a critical component of our health.”

Although core funding is provided by Texas A&M and Houston Methodist, Texan by Nature provides conservation expertise and access to in-kind contributions as well as staff and resources that help advance the center’s mission. Texan by Nature advances conservation through building collaborative action, acting as an accelerator for conservation projects and a strategic resource for industry and communities. The evidence discovered by the Center for Health & Nature will play a pivotal role in helping Texan by Nature and partners advance future conservation initiatives and better understand their benefits.

Current research projects at the center include designing systems to prevent physician and nurse burnout; evaluating the effects of a virtual window on hospital patients’ health and well-being; evaluating whether virtual reality gardening and nature settings can alleviate pain and stress as an alternative to pain medications; evaluating the kinds of green space that most positively impact pedestrian health; and examining the effects of travel to natural environments on overall health and well-being.

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