Researchers Suggest “a Dose of Nature’ for Children With ADHD

by Tanya Thomas on Oct 17 2008 10:29 AM

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) often impairs a child’s ability to concentrate. Now, researchers at the University of Illinois opine that a walk in the park may just be the right treatment to make these children focus.

In a study, child environment and behavior researchers Andrea Faber Taylor and Frances E. Kuo have shown that kids with ADHD demonstrate greater attention after a 20-minute walk in a park than after a similar walk in a downtown area or a residential neighborhood.

"From our previous research, we knew there might be a link between spending time in nature and reduced ADHD symptoms," said Faber Taylor.

"So to confirm that link we conducted a study in which we took children on walks in three different settings - one especially "green" and two less "green" - and kept everything about the walks as similar as possible," Faber Taylor added.

During the study, some children took the 'green' walk first; others took it second or last. After each walk, an experimenter who didn't know which walk the child had been on tested their attention using a standard neurocognitive test called Digit Span Backwards, in which a series of numbers are said aloud and the child recites them backwards. It's a test in which practice doesn't improve your score.

"We compared each child's performance to their own performance on different walks. And when we compared the scores for the walks in different environments, we found that after the walk in the park children generally concentrated better than they did after a walk in the downtown area or the neighborhood area. The greenest space was best at improving attention after exposure," said Faber Taylor.

During the walks, all of the children were unmedicated - those of the participants who normally took medications to control their ADHD symptoms stayed off their medications on the days of the walks.

Interestingly, Taylor and Kuo found that a 'dose of nature' may be as helpful, at least for a while, as a dose of stimulants.

"We calculated the size of the effect in our study and compared it to the size of effects in a recent medication study and we were surprised to see that the dose of nature had effects the same size or even larger than the dose of medication. What remains to be seen is how long the effects of a dose of nature last," said Faber Taylor.

The study was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Attention Disorders.