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A dose of nature

What would work better for increasing the concentration and calmness in a young person diagnosed with ADHD: a 20 minute walk in the park or some Ritalin? A recent study clearly shows that a walk in the park increases concentration in children with ADHD compared to those who walked in a town area or in their local neighborhood. The authors suggest that this effect may be as good as, if not better than, medication. The findings contribute to previous research which showed that the direct experience of a green environment can facilitate calmness and attention.

The study involved young people, diagnosed as having ADHD, being taken for a walk in one of three environments: a green park, a downtown area or a local neighborhood.  After walking for 20 minutes the young people were given a test which involved the reciting a string of numbers backwards.

All children experienced all three conditions i.e. some people walked in the park first; others took it second or last.  The researchers went to great efforts to control as much of the environment as possible e.g. who the child was with, level of noise, the length of time, the time of day, whether the child was on medication, who gave the test to the child.  Even though the sample size was small the researchers found a significant difference in young peoples symptoms: those who walked in the park did better.

The study also sought to investigate the impact of the environment compared to medication.  On each of the walking days those young people who were usually on medication stayed off it.  What the researchers found was that the outdoor activity was as good as medication.  The lead researcher Fracnes Kuo says ?we calculated the size of effect in our study and compared it to the size of the 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?

Other studies have shown that being in a green environment may actually produce long terms benefits too.  For example, one study looked at the amount of time young people play outdoors and their symptoms: those who regularly play in green spaces showed reduced symptoms.

Though the authors are not sure which aspect of the environment is making a difference: the greenness or lack of buildings, the evidence from other research along with these findings suggest that activity in a green space may be good for both children and adults.  They say that parents who want to get their child to focus on homework for example, could take them for a 20 minute walk in the park before hand. Unlike medication there are no adverse side effects to a walk in the park. To read the press release click here.  To go to Frances Kuo's lab to find out about other research in this area click here.




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