sonoran desert tortoise

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After I had emergency surgery at the beginning of the year, it was easy to think I’d never be physically capable again. 

  • I got exhausted quickly.
  • I couldn’t trust my bladder.
  • I wasn’t permitted to lift over 15 pounds for six weeks.

Every time I moved, it felt like the middle of my body was ripping apart. But the most painful thing for me was not being able to engage in my most loved hobby: backcountry camping.

For the first time, I had to figure out ways to get my nature fix on a smaller scale.

Studies have shown being in nature benefits our mental health. But when you’re sick or injured, it may not be as simple as you’re used to.

During my recovery, it was important for me to feel a sense of accomplishment, get a change of scenery, and have something to look forward to. 

Today I’m sharing five low-impact ways I enjoyed the outdoors and met those needs even when I wasn’t feeling my best.

1. Start an Indoor Garden

Creating a garden indoors is a fun option for bringing nature to you, and it livens up your space. It’s an easy way to feel a sense of accomplishment as you watch your plants grow and change every day.

Many plants do well in indoor gardens, like herbs, succulents, and tropical plants. These plants are easy to care for and require minimal maintenance.

My favorite way to set up an easy indoor garden is with an Aerogarden

If you have limited space or mobility, the Aerogarden is a relaxing way to grow fresh herbs, vegetables, and flowers inside. With simple seed kits and built-in lighting, it’s a great setup for anyone who wants a hassle-free way to try indoor gardening.

growing herbs in an aerogarden
Growing an herb seed kit in an Aerogarden

2. Take a Walk

One of the first things my surgeon urged me to do once I was unattached from a few beepy machines was walk, walk, walk. 

I started by pushing my infusion pump through the corridors of the hospital. When I got discharged, as the weather and my strength allowed, I started walking outside.

One option for low-impact outdoor walks is to take a stroll around a local park or nature reserve. These areas often have maintained paths suitable for people with mobility issues or recovering from injury. 

Walking outdoors provides a range of benefits beyond just physical activity. It helps reduce stress and can boost your mood. Being outside gave me a sense of calm and relaxation, and I found it beneficial in helping me along in recovery.

The great thing about outdoor walking is its accessibility to almost everyone. Walking is easy on your body and can be done by people of all ages and fitness levels.

saguaro cacti and mountains with snow in tucson
Mica View picnic area at Saguaro National Park East — a view from the easy, paved trail

3. Go for a Drive

Hopping in the car and going for a drive lets you get a taste of the outdoors without putting too much strain on your body.

I love appreciating the landscape from the comfort of my vehicle and I appreciate the flexibility it provides. Depending on your level of energy and mobility, you can go on long or short drives. You can also stop and take breaks as needed, whether it’s for stretching your legs or taking in a view.

No matter where you live or how far you’re willing to drive, there are probably plenty of routes nearby to satisfy your need for nature while not wearing yourself out.

Taking a drive gives you the opportunity to explore fresh places or revisit old favorites. Overall, it’s a low-impact way to experience nature and take care of your mental well-being at the same time.

My favorite ways to find scenic drives are searching on TripAdvisor and using Gaia GPS.

4. Take Up Bird Watching

When I couldn’t go outside for the first few days after being released from the hospital, I got my nature fill by watching birds from my window.

I love all my neighborhood birds, but the ones that got me through the toughest times were hummingbirds. They’re tiny, but they have huge personalities and there’s just no end to the entertainment they provide as they whip around the feeders and battle with each other.

If you’re new to bird watching, you can download the Audubon app to learn what birds live in your area. It will also give you information on what the birds eat, so you can offer their preferred foods outside your home to attract them.

You can take up bird watching at any time. Many birds migrate during different months, so you can always find new species to watch throughout the year.

Bird watching from home is an accessible way to connect with nature and appreciate the diversity of species around you.

annas hummingbird at a nectar feeder
Anna’s hummingbird at one of our nectar feeders

5. Place a Trail Camera

Trail cameras are weather resistant, camouflaged, and typically used by hunters to learn the habits of game. These cameras come at a lot of price points, in many sizes, and capture footage of animals in their natural habitat without disturbing them.

You don’t have to place a trail camera way out in the wilderness to catch interesting images. I walked mine about 100 feet off a busy walking path and captured jackrabbits chasing each other.

Trail cameras are easy to set up and use. Most are battery-operated and you can mount them on trees or other objects using straps or brackets. You can program your trail camera to take photos or videos at specific times of day or in response to movement.

The most important thing picking up a $35 trail camera did for me while I was healing from surgery was give me something to look forward to. Would I have videos of wildlife on my camera, or was I photo bombed by a human?

If you want a simple option for interacting with the outdoors when you’re physically limited, a trail camera is an excellent purchase.

Final Thoughts

While illness and injury are frustrating, potentially life-altering challenges, they don’t have to keep you from the things you enjoy. 

With the right mindset and a little creativity, I found plenty of options to connect with nature in a way that was mentally restorative and gentle on my body. 

Nature has the power to heal, and it’s important to prioritize our mental well-being even when you’re injured. I hope this post gave you some ideas for appreciating nature in a way that works for you!

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