Get your dose of nature with these tips : Life Kit Enjoying the outdoors can look like anything from walking the dog to celebrating Indigenous culture — you don't have to hike the tallest mountain peaks or go camping to love nature. Learn how to find your footing in nature in a way that works best for you.

There's no one way to enjoy nature. How to find what works for you and get outside

There's no one way to enjoy nature. How to find what works for you and get outside

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Researchers say there's growing evidence that nature has a powerful effect on us, improving both our physical and psychological health. Angela Hsieh/NPR hide caption

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Angela Hsieh/NPR

Researchers say there's growing evidence that nature has a powerful effect on us, improving both our physical and psychological health.

Angela Hsieh/NPR

Being "outdoorsy" can stir up images of big beautiful national parks, snowy slopes or lush, green forests. But smaller moments in nature, like walking my dog around the neighborhood or even listening to a rain sounds playlist as I fall asleep, have been just as valuable — and don't require the time, money or physical mobility of a big trip.

No matter how you access it, a growing body of research shows that nature has enormous emotional and cognitive benefits on people "including improved attention, lower stress, better mood, reduced risk of psychiatric disorders and even upticks in empathy and cooperation," according to the American Psychological Association.

Whether you're gearing up for a backpacking trip or a virtual aquarium tour, here are five small steps you can take to get closer to nature:

1. Think of time in nature as a "multivitamin" — it's best to take it every day

Getting your daily dose of nature is vital to your well-being, says Ming Kuo, who runs the Landscape and Human Health Lab at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. "Nature helps our mental muscles relax and recover," she explains.

For example, if you're spending hours staring at a computer screen or reading something difficult, you might feel pretty exhausted afterward. "If we get our breaks or even our micro restorative moments" by getting outside, Kuo says, "we recover some capacity to use that mental muscle so we can do things that are hard to do."

And it's not just our brains that benefit from nature. Kuo says our immune systems need it, too. "Our research suggests that it's not a luxury," says Kuo. "It's actually what you need to function well. ... It's kind of like a multivitamin."

If you can't physically get outside, you can still access nature and reap the benefits: Take a break to watch the birds from your window or tend to your houseplants.

"Nature includes everything from 'capital N' beautiful, spectacular, untouched wilderness all the way to a window box," says Kuo.

2. Find your people

Finding a crew who enjoys the same activities you do takes some of the pressure off trying to navigate the outdoors alone, and it's an important way to stay safe in more remote areas. In a world where we're constantly inundated with images of what an "outdoorsy person" should look like, finding your people might feel like a challenge.

Ash Manning is a plus-size explorer who hasn't always felt welcomed on whitewater rafting excursions or overnight hikes. "I think being bigger, it's always been like, 'Am I the only one doing this?' The answer is no, absolutely not," Manning says.

Eventually, the Appalachian native found Unlikely Hikers, a nationwide hiking group for "adventurers who are plus-size & fat, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, queer, trans and non-binary, disabled, neurodivergent and beyond."

Looking to find your people? Check out groups like Disabled Hikers, Black Men with Gardens, Fat Girls Hiking, Textured Waves and more.

3. Bring the outdoors into your world

Earyn McGee is a herpetologist and a science communicator. She runs the #FindThatLizard challenge on her Instagram account @Afro_Herper. Here, she holds lizard props that she uses in demos. Becky Harlan/NPR hide caption

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Becky Harlan/NPR

Earyn McGee is a herpetologist and a science communicator. She runs the #FindThatLizard challenge on her Instagram account @Afro_Herper. Here, she holds lizard props that she uses in demos.

Becky Harlan/NPR

Remember, you don't have to be outdoors to experience its wonder. We are a part of nature, and nature is a part of us — regardless of where we are.

Need a quick break from your "work screen time" for some "fun screen time?" There's a nature fix for that: Check out the #FindThatLizard game on Twitter and Instagram. Science communicator and herpetologist Earyn McGee posts a picture of a lizard "camouflaged in its natural environment, and people have to find the lizard in the photo." You don't even have to leave your couch to play.

Trying to get off screens? You can barbecue in your yard or the park, enjoy natural scents with an aromatherapy diffuser or open a window to get some fresh air. These are great options if you're living in a city, or if you're disabled, immunocompromised or on a budget.

4. Learn about the origins of "our" outdoors and celebrate Indigenous history

Before the 1964 Civil Rights Act, most people of color were legally denied access to or segregated at state and national parks. "[Parks] were actually designed to be exclusive, so if you can't get to them, it's not your fault," McGee explains. That exclusion extends to the erasure of Indigenous peoples from these lands and the environmental movement at large.

Recognizing the Indigenous history of the land we're on can really ground our experiences in the outdoors, says Oregon State University (OSU) anthropologist Spirit Brooks. As a member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, Brooks' focus is on "shifting this dominant narrative of wilderness and conservation and those ideas being rooted in settler colonialism."

Learn about which tribes are local to you and "the Indigenous place names in your area for streams, for mountains, for parks," Brooks says. Apps like Native Land and Whose Land are great places to start.

Ultimately, deepening our appreciation for nature, in whatever ways, is good for ourselves today and for future generations, too.


The podcast portion of this story was produced by Audrey Nguyen with engineering help from Gilly Moon and Kwesi Lee.

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