Spring is just around the corner, and with longer days and warmer weather on the horizon, it’s a great time to think about ways to get outside. Spending time in nature can have big benefits for everyone, but especially older adults. Here are just a few suggestions for getting active and staying engaged.

St. Louis’ beloved Cardinals aren’t the only birds worth watching in spring. In April and May each year, more than 100 species of migrant birds pass through the region. This year, consider checking them out for yourself. Birdwatching not only promotes spending time in nature, but it can lower blood pressure and reduce stress. Birding also keeps your mind engaged as it encourages you to observe small details and patterns in animal behavior. To get started, Forest Park’s Nature Reserve offers monthly beginner bird walks, or you can check out programming from the St. Louis Audubon Society. You also can bring the activity home. Hanging a bird feeder outside a window can bring some feathered friends to you.

Even if you don’t have the greenest of thumbs, gardening is a hobby that has been shown to be beneficial for older adults. It lowers stress and raises your serotonin levels. Some studies have even linked gardening to boosting heart and brain health, and it may lead to reduced risks of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Plus, if you put your efforts into growing fruits, vegetables or herbs, you can get some nutritious home-grown food out of it. If you’re worried about the physical strain of tending a garden, opt for containers or raised beds to reduce the toll it takes on your body. Planters also are a great option if you have limited outdoor space.

nature walks
Take a hike—or at least a walk. Regular walks strengthen muscles, improve flexibility and increase balance and coordination. They also can lower risk for heart disease and stroke, reduce blood pressure and give your mental health a boost. And walking in nature has even more benefits. It increases vitamin D levels, may help improve your memory and can be beneficial to your immune system. Before heading out, make sure you have appropriate shoes, comfortable clothing, sun protection and a water bottle to ensure you stay hydrated. St. Louis has no shortage of green spaces to check out. Carondelet Park, Lafayette Park, Faust County Park and Tower Grove are just a few that are perfect for a stroll.

Photography can be a great complement to other hobbies, including birdwatching and nature walks. Thanks to smartphones, it’s also one of the most accessible forms of art. Creative expression is great for physical and mental wellbeing. Research indicates that it offers aging adults a sense of purpose, while helping maintain concentration, improving coordination and boosting mood. It also encourages socialization. Photography in particular also can aid cognitive health in several ways. Not only can it be enjoyable to look back at photos you’ve taken, reviewing them can help combat cognitive decline and aid in recollection. Additionally, learning new skills and mastering techniques can strengthen abilities like memory and focus.