Nature Deficit by Michelle Avola-Brown, Executive Director, Naples Pathways Coalition

Living in Southwest Florida, it might seem odd to think anyone here could experience something called Nature Deficit Disorder. As technology firmly sinks its claws into kids, teens, and adults, nature, with all its beauty and health benefits, becomes all but invisible to many. This results in a condition that negatively impacts our physical, mental, and emotional health. It is becoming more prevalent than you might think.

The benefits of spending time in nature are many. It boosts your immune system, reduces stress and anxiety, and improves memory and cognitive function. It also kickstarts creativity and elevates
your overall well-being. If you have trouble sleeping, spending time outside resets your internal clock and it even contributes to better eyesight.

As it gets hotter and more humid every day, many of us retreat to the comfort of air conditioning indoors. With an increase in subscriptions to streaming services and gaming since the pandemic, we may have developed a habit of tuning in to shows and movies and tuning out gorgeous sunsets, vibrant flowers and trees, and enjoyable walks or bike rides around the neighborhood.

Sadly, our kids are following our lead, which is especially concerning. According to the National Wildlife Federation, American children are spending only minutes a day of unstructured outdoor play. All this time inside is increasing obesity, mental health issues, and impairs children and teens from developing a range of skills. When youth are allowed to create and explore the world around them instead of limiting themselves to indoor activities, they can cultivate more competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the ability to meet future challenges.

So, it seems pretty apparent that all of us need to get outside. But what if splashing in a pool, chasing waves at the beach, and driving balls on the golf course are not necessarily your thing?
There are plenty of other ways to get out and enjoy the outdoors without melting into a puddle from the heat.

• Taking a stroll before the sun comes up or after it has set is enjoyable in the summer. If you don’t feel like walking your neighborhood, head out to the Gordon River Greenway for a picturesque trek in nature.

• Make sure you have front and rear lights on your bike and go for a spin a bit before sunset. Just map out where you plan to bike during the day to be aware of hazards.

• Speaking of dark, why not lay a blanket out on the lawn and gaze up at the stars?

• Get a box of chalk and create a masterpiece on your sidewalk after dinner. It’s not just for kids!

• Grab your family or the neighbors and go for an early morning or evening scavenger hunt in your community.

• My husband and sons built a cornhole set our family enjoys playing just before the sun goes down, but Amazon, Target, and several other stores carry them too.

• Have you ever played Yardzee? It’s like Yahtzee but with giant dice to roll on the lawn. Croquet and bocce get you out of the house playing in nature too.

• How about stringing a net or some rope across the driveway and playing some badminton?

• A late-night picnic or just enjoying a bowl of ice cream in the backyard gets you away from screens and off the couch.

That is a short list, but I encourage you to brainstorm with your family and friends for more ways to get outside, beat the heat, and have fun. An exciting outdoor amenity coming to Collier County
is the Paradise Coast Trail. Envisioned to branch from the Gordon River Greenway, it will be a premier 70+ mile trail built exclusively for safe and enjoyable walking, running, and biking.

Learn more at

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