Time spent in the great outdoors is never wasted. But now that we’ve changed our routines—whether through remote work, social distancing, or a cross-country move—it’s never been more important to enjoy the chirping birds and fresh air that nature has to offer. And that’s where outdoor activities come in.
In fact, research shows that spending time outdoors can help reduce stress while elevating happiness, positivity, and a sense of purpose. Getting outdoors regularly may also prevent the risk of developing a psychological illness, as demonstrated by a Danish study on children living near green spaces. In this research, kids with the least access to nature had a 55% higher risk of developing substance use or mental health disorders compared to those who interacted with nature often.
It’s clear that nature offers tremendous wellness benefits, but it can also feel daunting if you don’t consider yourself an outdoorsy type. The good news: You don’t have to climb a mountain to feel good. According to Melissa Rodriguez, Fitness Specialist (NASM Certified Personal Trainer & NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning) at Mindbody, “It doesn’t take much time exercising outdoors to reap the benefits.”
That means you could try something new and adventurous, like kayaking or climbing, but you could also make a point to get the family going out and about on a regular basis. “Just about any outdoor activity will help boost mental and physical health. Something as simple as walking or playing with your kids or dog outside for 20-30 minutes most days of the week will help you reap some of the mental and physical benefits of outdoor exercise,” Rodriguez says.
Another idea is to simply take your regular exercise outside, which will switch up your routine while exposing you to healing natural surroundings. “If weather permits, you can also take your workout outdoors with bodyweight training at a nearby park to build conditioning and muscular endurance,” Rodriguez adds. Many public outdoor spaces have infrastructure that makes it easy to work out. That aside, here are 10 fun ways to get active in the outdoors.
Best outdoor activities
1. Go kayaking
If you live near a body of water, kayaking is a great way to exercise while enjoying the beauty of nature. Plus, kayaking has been shown to bolster a number of physiological benefits. This includes improved heart rate and blood pressure, and it also offers the same health benefits of traditional indoor exercises, such as rowing or running on the treadmill. It could be a lake, island, river, or natural spring. No matter where you paddle, you’re sure to have a smile on your face.
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2. Walk the neighborhood
Considering the many health benefits of walking, this outdoor activity is far underrated. Simply moseying around the block instead of driving can reduce your risk of many life-threatening conditions, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and osteoporosis, among others. Walks are a great opportunity to see a new part of the neighborhood, feel the sunshine, call a friend to catch up, or listen to an inspiring podcast that can boost your mood.
3. Plant a garden
Getting your hands in the dirt is always fruitful—especially when it means beautifying the areas around your home or indulging in fresh food. Gardening is good for you, too. Studies show that gardening elevates levels of physical fitness while reducing physical pain and improving rehabilitation from injuries. On a psychological level, regular gardening also supports resilience during chronic illness and promotes positive mental health outcomes.
4. Bike a local trail
Biking is a proven way to boost your overall health. In addition to boosting physical fitness, biking also reduces the risk of chronic disease. But that’s not all. Biking is a chance to explore a new area of your town or city while enjoying nature in a way you simply can’t in a car. Plus, it’s an activity you can do with loved ones, and that camaraderie and togetherness can boost happiness for the whole family.
5. Hike somewhere
Take a hike—no, really. People who hike benefit from physical activity and close proximity to nature. And, the long-term benefits of hiking can result in decreased blood pressure, because being outdoors for multiple hours away from society helps reduce stress. It may also boost immune function, reduce depression, and restore your cognitive functioning, making it easier to remain alert and pay attention in everyday life. Just be sure to choose a hike that’s within your fitness level—and be prepared with water and food in case of emergency.
6. Dance it out
line dance in your yard or tango through the streets—no matter where you do it, dancing is guaranteed to lift your mood. Whether it’s Zumba, ballet, or hip-hop, dancing is also great for the soul because it’s a chance to connect to your community, which is more important now than ever before. It’s also a health-boosting recreational activity that can support healthy weight management and ward off depression, for both you and everyone involved in the group dance.
7. Visit a new park
Chances are, you live near some kind of green space. But what if you switch things up and try going to a different park, where you can walk, fly a kite, or have a picnic? Simply getting into a green space near you can activate healing benefits like reduced stress and decreased instances of asthma, heart disease, stroke, and hypertension. Plus, this adventure may make you rethink where you live and how you interact with the green spaces near you.
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8. Hit the tennis courts
Grab a friend (or three) and head to an outdoor tennis court. The physical rewards of tennis aren’t hard to feel shortly after the first serve, but did you know that tennis can regulate serotonin levels? Playing tennis regularly is great for mental health because it restores the limbic structures that may have been impacted by depression. It’s also great for those who don’t experience depression because it all regulates cortisol (which is responsible for stress) and releases endorphins to boost happiness.
9. Play fun and games
It doesn’t matter if you’re with kids, or how old you are. Games are fun for everyone, and they’re even better outdoors. Bocce ball, ladder ball, and croquet are all easy games to play with others outdoors. You can also play hopscotch, hide and go seek, or kickball. In children, research shows that outdoor games support creativity and social competence. As an adult, it’s never too late to strengthen these skills and get back to your playful, childish self that longs to be set free.
10. Explore flora and fauna
No matter where you live, there are local plants and animals enjoying your world along with you. So why not take a deeper dive into finding and learning about these organisms? Grab a local guide to birdwatching, mushroom hunting, or leaf-peeping. Then, break out the camera and set out to see how many new species you can learn to identify. Engaging with your natural world in this way can boost your observation skills and foster gratitude for the earth while helping you connect to something greater than yourself.
Next up: 10 Best Hiking Boots for Women