It’s no secret that for most people, getting outdoors and spending some time in nature is a soothing experience. In fact, research has shown that brief exposure to green outdoor spaces, or even photos of such settings, can improve concentration and impulse control in children and adults without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

A new study of more than 400 children with ADHD, however, has found that those who regularly play in outdoor settings with grass and trees have milder ADHD symptoms than those who play indoors or in built outdoor environments.

The association held even when the researchers controlled for income and other variables, according to the study, which was published recently in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.

Most children with ADHD “would benefit from a low-cost, side-effect-free way of managing their symptoms,” even if they are medicated, the authors wrote. The authors are crop sciences visiting teaching associate Andrea Faber Taylor, PhD, and natural resources and environmental sciences professor Frances (Ming) Kuo, PhD, both of the University of Illinois.

Previous research conducted by the team showed has shown that brief exposure to green outdoor spaces improved concentration and impulse control in those 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 2004 study they analyzed data from an Internet survey of parents of children diagnosed with ADHD and found that “green time” correlated with milder ADHD symptoms immediately afterward.

The new study explored other data from the same survey to determine whether the effect is also true for green play settings that are routinely experienced, such as the park, playground, or backyard.

“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 in a statement. “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?”

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 green time 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 findings could have implications for with respect to medication for ADHD as well, the authors wrote in the study. Although medications are effective for most children with ADHD, they are ineffective for some, and other children cannot tolerate them.

“A green dose or series of green doses might conceivably reduce the need for medication by one dose per day, allowing growing children to recover their appetites in time for dinner and get a good night’s sleep. Finally, among those children for whom medication is not an option, a regular regime of green views and green time outdoors might offer the only relief from symptoms available,” they wrote.

For Kids with ADHD, Regular ‘Green Time’ is Linked to Milder Symptoms (University of Illinois)
Could Exposure to Everyday Green Spaces Help Treat ADHD? Evidence from Children’s Play Settings [Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being]