A new study suggests an increase in outdoor activity reduces the severity of a child’s symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The finding supports early studies that found time spent in green outdoor settings is beneficial.
Researchers studied more than 400 children diagnosed with ADHD. They discovered those who regularly play in outdoor settings with abundant grass and trees have milder ADHD symptoms than those who play indoors or in built outdoor environments.
Researchers found the findings held true even when factoring other factors such as socioeconomic status.
The study appears in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.
University of Illinois study authors Andrea Faber Taylor, Ph.D., and Frances (Ming) Kuo, Ph.D., believe this natural approach could provide a low-cost, side-effect-free way of managing a child’s symptoms.
Previous research has shown that brief exposure to green outdoor spaces – and in one study, to photos of green settings — can improve concentration and impulse control in children and adults without ADHD.
These findings led Taylor and Kuo to examine whether children diagnosed with ADHD, which is characterized by deficits in concentration and impulse control, might also benefit from “green time.”
In a study published in 2004, they analyzed data from a national Internet-based survey of parents of children formally diagnosed with ADHD and found that activities conducted in greener outdoor settings did correlate with milder symptoms immediately afterward, compared to activities in other settings.
The new study explores other data from the same survey to determine whether the effect also is true for green play settings that are routinely experienced – the park, playground or backyard that a child visits daily or several times a week.
“Before the current study, we were confident that acute exposures to nature – sort of one-time doses – have short-term impacts on ADHD symptoms,” Kuo said. “The question is, if you’re getting chronic exposure, but it’s the same old stuff because it’s in your backyard or it’s the playground at your school, then does that help?”
To address this question, the researchers examined parents’ descriptions of their child’s daily play setting and overall symptom severity. They also looked at the children’s age, sex, formal diagnosis (ADD or ADHD) and total household income.
The analyses revealed an association between routine play in green, outdoor settings and milder ADHD symptoms.
“On the whole, the green settings were related to milder overall symptoms than either the ‘built outdoors’ or ‘indoors’ settings,” Taylor said.
The setting appears to be important for children with high degrees of hyperactivity, as these children tended to have milder symptoms if they regularly played in a green and open environment (such as a soccer field or expansive lawn) rather than in a green space with lots of trees or an indoor or built outdoor setting.
The researchers found no significant differences between boys and girls or income groups in terms of the relationship between the greenness of play settings and overall symptom severity.
Kuo noted that the findings don’t by themselves prove that routine playtime in green space reduces symptom severity in children with ADHD.
However, given the previous studies showing a cause-and-effect relationship between exposure to nature and improved concentration and impulse control, she said, “it is reasonably safe to guess that that’s true here as well.”
Source: University of Illinois