The best thing about the outdoors? It’s everywhere. Despite what glossy ads and Instagram want you to believe, you don’t need to travel far or climb a mountain or take a sabbatical to get a fresh perspective. As many of us have learned this year, there are natural wonders right in our backyards—and that simply by stepping outside we can change how we feel on the inside.
That’s a lesson the world needs right now. More than 40 million American adults experience anxiety every year, and the American Psychiatric Association reports rates are rising. Fortunately, the latest research shows that the outdoors is like an antidote to the stress of modern living, boosting both physical and mental health.
And the benefits aren’t just the fuzzy feel-good variety. Studies have shown that simply sitting outside can reduce blood pressure and lower heart rate, as well as decrease levels of the stress-causing hormone cortisol. It gets better: Breathing phytoncides—airborne chemicals produced by plants—could boost your immune system by increasing white blood cells. And in a University of Michigan study, subjects who took a 50-minute walk through a nearby arboretum boosted their scores on a cognitive test by 20 percent (not so for subjects who took a stroll down a busy urban street).
So what’s the catch? None. No coaches, no training, no expensive equipment. Just find a nearby park, a trail, any natural space—put on a comfortable pair of shoes—and you’re in business. Even the shoes are optional, but we’re not gonna lie: It’s hard to enjoy the outdoors if your feet hurt. That’s why Vasque started making boots more than 50 years ago, and why it still does nothing else. Since its inception, the brand has known something that science has now confirmed: Getting outdoors is good for mind and body. Vasque exists to help you disconnect, which is the best way to reconnect—with yourself, with others, with what matters.
We need that more than ever. So get out there and discover the everyday wonders that exist within easy reach, on local hikes and in nearby parks. Just by looking a little more closely, or from a new angle, or with different light, we get a fresh perspective on the world and ourselves. Here are six ways to see with new eyes, wherever you are. After all, no less an authority than Henry David Thoreau said, “The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”
Zero in on one square inch. What details and color and patterns do you see? Try examining a tree trunk or a flower or a rock. Look at both sides of a leaf.
Bears get all the buzz, but some of nature’s smallest creatures—bugs, frogs, worms—are the most fascinating. Sit in one spot for 30 minutes and see what comes by.
Catch a reflection
A natural mirror turns the world around in surprising ways. Find a pond or a puddle or a creek and visit at different times of the day, to see how the changing light changes the reflection.
Get down on ground level. Scenery you’ve seen before looks entirely different from a vantage point six inches off the ground.
Nothing changes your perspective like seeing things like a fish. Take a mask and snorkel on your next hike to a lake and see for yourself.
There’s a whole other world above our heads, and there’s nothing like seeing it from the bottom up. Lie on your back and save your neck.