Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is characterized by three symptomatic traits: inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. There is no cure for this brain condition, and treatment usually consists of prescriptive drugs. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2016 data, ADHD affects 6.1 million children ages 2-17 years old.
Among all children 2-17 years of age with ADHD, researchers also found:
- 6 out of 10 (62%) were taking medication for their ADHD, and represent 1 out of 20 of all U.S. children;
- Just under half (47%) received any behavioral treatment for their ADHD in the past year. Among the youngest children (2-5 years of age), the number increased to over half (60%);
- Nearly two-thirds (64%) also had another mental, emotional, or behavioral disorder, such as conduct disorder, anxiety, depression, autism, and Tourette syndrome.1
Many studies have found nature to have a positive effect on individuals with ADHD. Time spent in green spaces helps the brain become more organized aiding in impulse control and hyperactivity. 2 The best part is nature is free to experience and does not come with dangerous side effects like medication. Here’s a summary of 4 research studies that support nature therapy for ADHD.
4 Peer-Reviewed Studies on Nature Therapy in Green Spaces for ADHD
Could Exposure to Everyday Green Spaces Help Treat ADHD? Evidence from Children’s Play Setting
Published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being by Andrea Faber Taylor and Frances E. (Ming) Kuo in 2011, this study followed 421 children. Researchers looked at whether routine exposure to green spaces during regular play settings had an effect on ADHD symptoms.
Results: Findings suggest that everyday play settings make a difference in overall symptom severity in children with ADHD. Specifically, children with ADHD who play regularly in green play settings have milder symptoms than children who play in built outdoor and indoor settings. This is true for all income groups and for both boys and girls. Interestingly, for hyperactive children, the apparent advantage of green spaces is true only for relatively open green settings.3
Access to urban green spaces and behavioural problems in children: Results from the GINIplus and LISAplus studies
Published in Environment International in 2014, authors Iana Markevych et al., researchers found the distance from green spaces children lived the higher rates of hyperactive behavior. In addition, residents of neighborhoods with no green spaces showed a greater association with negative mental health. The research focused on 10-year-old children.
Results: The distance between a child’s residence and the nearest urban green space was positively associated with the odds of hyperactivity/inattention, especially among children with abnormal values compared to children with borderline or normal values (odds ratio (OR) = 1.20 (95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.01–1.42) per 500 m increase in distance). When stratified by sex, this association was only statistically significant among males. Children living further than 500 m away from urban green spaces had more overall behavioural problems than those living within 500 m of urban green spaces (proportional OR = 1.41 (95% CI = 1.06–1.87)). Behavioural problems were not associated with the distance to forests or with residential surrounding greenness. 4
A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study
Researchers reported results in the American Journal of Public Health on the effect of out of school activities in natural settings for children with ADHD.
Methods. Parents nationwide rated the aftereffects of 49 common after-school and weekend activities on children’s symptoms. Aftereffects were compared for activities conducted in green outdoor settings versus those conducted in both built outdoor and indoor settings.
Results. In this national, nonprobability sample, green outdoor activities reduced symptoms significantly more than did activities conducted in other settings, even when activities were matched across settings. Findings were consistent across age, gender, and income groups; community types; geographic regions; and diagnoses.5
Children With Attention Deficits Concentrate Better After Walk in the Park
This small study involving 17 children ages 7-12 was published in 2009 in the Journal of Attention Disorders. Children were taken for 20-minute walks one week apart in three different settings: neighborhood, urban, and park.
Results: Children with ADHD concentrated better after the walk in the park than after the downtown walk (p = .0229) or the neighborhood walk (p = .0072). Effect sizes were substantial (Cohen’s d =.52 and .77, respectively) and comparable to those reported for recent formulations of methylphenidate.
Conclusion: Twenty minutes in a park setting was sufficient to elevate attention performance relative to the same amount of time in other settings. These findings indicate that environments can enhance attention not only in the general population but also in ADHD populations. “Doses of nature” might serve as a safe, inexpensive, widely accessible new tool in the tool kit for managing ADHD symptoms.6
All children benefit from being in nature; however, the above research shows exciting results for those that suffer from ADHD symptoms. A little time in green spaces can make a big difference and should be considered as part of an ADHD treatment plan.
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