9 Ways to Connect with Nature When You Live in a City

Each year, science adds more proof that spending time in nature can produce tremendous benefits. Connecting with the natural world improves our physical, mental, and emotional health, and yet, for a variety of reasons, many Americans do not spend nearly enough time in the great outdoors to take advantage of these benefits. One significant hurdle: The vast majority of people in North America live in cities and urban areas, which can make it difficult to conveniently access trail networks and wilderness areas.

But luckily for city dwellers, there are still plenty of ways to reap the benefits of nature within city limits—no packing hassles or long car rides into the wilderness required. Here are nine easy ways to soak up some outdoor time in an urban environment.

1. Pop to a Park for Exercise and Relaxation

No matter where you work out, it’s a good thing for your body and brain. But every week or so, skip the sweaty confines of the gym and knock out your workout in a local park. With running and walking trails, bike paths, and grassy spaces perfect for stretching, a park is perfect for breaking a sweat, whether it’s a hardcore training run or just a brisk stroll during your lunch break to get the blood pumping. Post-cardio, catch your breath under a tree and soak up those endorphins along with the simple pleasure of being outside.

2. Take Advantage of Your City’s Outdoor Initiatives

More cities across the country are increasing and enhancing green spaces, including urban gardens, in-town trails, and other designated outdoor areas in which to relax and recreate. The pioneering Rails to Trails has led the way in many communities by refurbishing former railroad tracks into graded pathways used for walking, running, and cycling, such as the Atlanta BeltLine, The 606 in Chicago, and the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville.

3. Dig into a Community Garden

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Community gardens are an easy, hands-on way to help cultivate more green space in cities. Irene Dávila

It’s a common plight for many city dwellers: no outdoor space of your own. This is where community gardens come into play. These green gathering spots often welcome new members to get their hands dirty with hands-on tasks like seed planting, harvest, and garden upkeep. Community gardens usually have their own structure and membership requirements, and many operate as a club with dues-paying members contributing to labor and supplies. Sharing in the harvest is a fitting reward for a season of hard work and community gatherings.

4. Visit a Botanical Garden, Butterfly Garden, or Arboretum

Every few months, play tourist in your own city with a visit to a local attraction that focuses on plants and natural spaces. Botanical gardens and arboretums provide unique experiences to explore lush gardens and learn about local ecosystems (and many offer fun events like cocktail parties). Meanwhile, watching clouds of butterflies float and flutter all around you is all but guaranteed to lower blood pressure.

5. Dine at Rooftop Gardens

Add a dash of fresh air to your next meal by choosing a restaurant with an open rooftop or backyard garden. Enjoying your food al fresco has been said to make it taste better, whether you’re under the stars at a campsite or basking in the glow of cheerful string lights at your favorite rooftop bar.

6. Build an Indoor Herb Garden

Herb boxes (or potted herbs) are an easy, low-investment option for urban digs that have no outdoor space for gardening—and they’re a fun way to fine-tune your green thumb skills. Another bonus to growing your own herbs? No last-minute, mid-recipe dash to the store for that basil you forgot to buy. In addition to the Italian staple, easy (and delicious) options include chives, oregano, parsley, and mint. (Watch out for that mint, though, which can easily take over if not kept in check. Even so, a bumper crop is a great excuse to throw a mojito cocktail party and show off your gardening game.)

7. Turn Your Home Green

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Thriving plants inside your home? A (green) thumbs-up for your well-being. Katya Austin

Raising plants (like that aforementioned herb garden) is a low-pressure way to feel productive, invite good energy into your home, and reap benefits like cleaner air. There are all sorts of “challenge” levels to the plants you can raise, and if you’re still a newbie, start with a cactus or decorative scattering of on-trend succulents. These low-water, hardy plants require less care and attention than their leafier cousins, and they’re an excellent option for people who travel often. Aloe plants, philodendrons, and spider plants are also safe picks. Choose attractive pots, and you’ll add a dash of style to your space, too.

8. Shop at Farmer’s Markets

“Shop local” takes on a whole new meaning when you not only buy from independent stores but directly from the producers. Farms on the outskirts of urban areas often bring fresh produce to sell at central locations or weekly events in parks, city centers, and other gathering spaces. Many markets operate throughout the year, and in addition to fresh produce and local goods, you’ll be eating seasonal based on what grows in your region at different times of the year (and spending less because you won’t be paying for pricey shipping costs).

9. Feed (or Visit) the Resident Ducks

Of course, you’ll check first that it’s ok to feed your web-footed friends, and if so, go for it: Stale bread is usually a safe bet. No feeding allowed? Go for a stroll around the pond instead—watching duck families paddling around the water is a great way to let the stress of the day roll off your back. Ducklings are born in the springtime, so be on the lookout for the fluffy cuties between April and July.

Written by Matcha for Republic of Durable Goods.