ADHD Symptoms Milder After Green Space Playtime

CHAMPAIGN, Illinois, September 16, 2011 (ENS) – Children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder who regularly play outdoors in areas with green grass and trees have milder symptoms than those who play indoors or in built outdoor environments, University of Illinois researchers report.

The study of more than 400 children with ADHD found the association, which holds even when the researchers controlled for income and other variables.

Although many children with ADHD are medicated, most “would benefit from a low-cost, side-effect-free way of managing their symptoms,” wrote the study’s authors Andrea Faber Taylor, UI crop sciences teaching associate, and Frances Ming Kuo, natural resources and environmental sciences professor.

Their study appears in the current issue of the journal “Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being.”

The most commonly diagnosed behavioral disorder of childhood, ADHD is more common in boys than girls, and affects three to five percent of children in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health, NIH.

Children play on a green field (Photo by Ron Lavine)

Symptoms include severe difficulty concentrating, hyperactivity and poor impulse control.

“No one knows exactly what causes ADHD. It runs in families, so genetics may be a factor,” the NIH says. “Whatever the cause may be, it seems to be set in motion early in life as the brain is developing. Imaging studies suggest that the brains of children with ADHD are different from those of other children.”

Earlier studies show that even children and adults without ADHD demonstrate improved concentration and impulse control after brief exposure to green outdoor spaces, and in one study, to photos of green settings.

These findings led Taylor and Kuo to examine whether children diagnosed with ADHD also might 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. They found that activities in green 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, such as a 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 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 researchers also found that children with the highest hyperactivity had milder symptoms if they regularly played in a green and open environment, such as a soccer field or large 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 do not by themselves prove that routine playtime in green space reduces symptom severity in children with ADHD.

But in light of the previous studies showing a cause-and-effect relationship between exposure to green space and improved concentration and impulse control, she said, “it is reasonably safe to guess that that’s true here as well.”

The study was performed with Hatch Act funds, and with support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service National Research Initiative with a recommendation from the National Urban and Community Forestry Advisory Council.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.