Together with Athleta, we're compiling actionable wellness advice you need from the experts—and Well+Good is bringing it to life all year long at events in NYC. Here, Get Out Stay Out founder Karen Ramos shares how to reap more out of the great outdoors.
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There's just something about letting the sun warm your face on a chilly day or taking in a deep breath of fresh air when you're walking through the woods that helps the crush of the daily grind melt away a little bit—and reminds you that there's a whole wide world out there to connect with.
That "something" isn't just in your head, either. According to a 2019 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research, spending just 20 minutes outside can significantly improve your wellbeing.
But if your desk job keeps you chained to your computer, finding the 20 minutes to rack up those wellbeing points and connect with a sense of community outside four walls can be a challenge. Luckily, there are still ways to grab some of the al fresco benefits even when you're stuck inside your office for most of the day.
Karen Ramos—who is a huge advocate for interacting with nature as the founder of the nonprofit Get Out Stay Out, an outdoor excursion program for indigenous migrant youth—has four great back-pocket tips for maximizing her fresh air time on the days when even she can't get out enough.
If it seems counterintuitive to add more screen time when you're trying to increase your connection with the outdoors, hear us out. Sometimes, staying indoors is just a necessary reality (hello, rainy days), but that doesn't mean your mind has to stay cooped up, too.
On those days, Ramos recommends scrolling through travel accounts on Instagram and saving photos of the places you would like to visit one day. Science backs her up on this practice, too: According to this 2015 study, looking at images of plants and other greenery can help to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and lower your stress levels. So when all else fails, scroll away.
Turn Your Commute Into an Outdoor Experience
Of course, getting the real thing is always preferable over a picture, so finding simple ways to work outside time into your schedule is key.
Whether it's putting a recurring midday hold on your work calendar that will hold you accountable to actually taking that 15 minute walk around the block or opting for the further parking spot or subway stop, there are little changes you can make in your everyday schedule that will help you maximize your nature time—if you just look for them.
"Being a student can sometimes keep me inside longer than I would like to be, so I try to walk or bike wherever possible, whether I am going to grab coffee or headed to class," Ramos says.
Schedule Outdoor Exercise
Next time you're headed to the gym, think to yourself, 'Could I take this workout outside?' That's what Ramos does whenever possible, as it helps her score the two-for-one benefits of exercise plus the outdoors.
Her favorite forms of activity? Squeezing in a hike before class, using an outing on her stand-up paddle board as motivation for getting her work done quickly, or suiting up for a rock-climbing session.
Get Some House Plants
If you can't get yourself to the outdoors, bring the outdoors to you. The next time you're feeling restless, pencil in some QT with your house plants. Taking 15 minutes to prune the leaves, check the soil, and fill the pots with water can give you that same great outdoors connection from the comfort of your home.
Ramos employs this tactic when she finds herself missing the open-space adventures of her childhood, growing up as the daughter of parents who worked in produce fields. "From an early age I picked produce, climbed avocado trees, and spent my days digging holes in my mom's garden," she says. "I've been an outdoors person my whole life."
Today, her own indoor garden suffices in a pinch. "I try to fuel this connection through small efforts every day, [which] sometimes is just watering my plants," Ramos says. "I think our connections can be nourished daily through small and big acts."