A Walk in the Park Helps ADHD Symptoms

Terry Matlen, ACSW Health Guide
  • I'm often asked if there are alternative, non-medication related ways to treat their or their child's ADHD. There are a small percentage of individuals with ADHD that do not respond to stimulant medications. Others might find that the side effects are unacceptable.


    Unfortunately, there has been little research to show that nontraditional, alternative treatments are as effective as medications in treating ADHD. However, a recent study gives a bit of optimism for a very simple way to help beat ADHD symptoms: enjoying a bit of green outdoors every day.

    Maybe mother was right when she "shooed" her children out to play each day, knowing fresh air was good for them.

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    In a recent issue of the Journal of Attention Disorders, researchers reported that children with ADHD who walked for 20 minutes through a park had an improvement in attention vs those who took a walk through a less "green" area- a neighborhood or downtown area.


    Child environment and behavior researchers Andrea Faber Taylor and Frances E. Kuo from the University of Illinois, noted that previous research suggested that access to nature appeared to lessen ADHD symptoms in children.


    In this particular study, the researchers took 17 children on walks in three different settings - one especially "green" and two less "green" - and kept everything about the walks as similar as possible," says Faber Taylor

    Some children visited the green areas first, while others went second or last. The experimenters accompanying the children didn't know which walk the child took. Afterwards, each child was given the Digit Span Backwards, a neurocognitive test to measure their attention. In this test, children listen to a series of numbers and are asked to recite them backwards.


    "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.


    All of the children were not given their ADHD medications on the days of the walks and the researches found that a ‘dose of nature' helped decrease ADHD symptoms, at least for a while, as well as a dose of stimulants, the most popular and successful medical treatment used for ADHD.


    "We don't know what it is about the park, exactly - the greenness or lack of buildings - that seems to improve attention, but the study tells us that even though everything else was the same - who the child was with, the levels of noise, the length of time, the time of day, whether the child was on medication - if we kept everything else the same, we just changed the environment, we still saw a measurable difference in children's symptoms.


    "And that's completely new. No one has done a study looking at a child in different environments, in a controlled comparison where everything else is the same", stated Taylor.


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    The researchers calculated the amount of symptom improvement in the study and compared it to symptom improvement in a recent medication study and  were surprised to see that the dose of nature had the same effects- or even better - than the dose of medication.


    "What remains to be seen is how long the effects of a dose of nature last," said Faber Taylor.


    Though this specific study only followed 17 children, the researchers noted that a much larger study, of over 450 children showed similar findings.


    According to Taylor, the evidence from both studies suggests that getting outdoors, in a natural green setting, can benefit everyone, even children (and adults) who have not been diagnosed with ADHD.  Additionally, there is no cost involved, no side effects and it is fairly easy to access such areas. 


    So perhaps we should all take our mothers' advice and get outdoors every day for a dose of nature!

Published On: December 03, 2008