Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Nature May Ease ADHD Symptoms

Nature may ease ADHD symptoms
Globe and Mail
October 17, 2008

Most adults know the restorative benefits of taking a walk among the trees.

But new research suggests that a nature stroll can also improve the
span of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Researchers at the University of Illinois found that children with ADHD
greater focus immediately after a 20-minute walk in a park than after a
similar walk in a neighbourhood or downtown area.

Frances Kuo, one of the co-authors of the study, said the research builds on
her previous work that found green walks for children in general improved
their attention and their impulse control - two of the chief issues in ADHD

After conducting two surveys of parents about the after-school and weekend
activities that seemed to ease their children's ADHD symptoms, Dr. Kuo and
Andrea Faber Taylor zeroed in on the seemingly positive effects of walking

"We thought maybe this is real, and the parents aren't just hallucinating,"
said Dr. Kuo, an environmental psychologist.

The children, who were unmedicated at the time of the testing, were each
on three different walks. After the walks they were given a neurocognitive
test called the Digit Span Backwards, in which they were told a series of
numbers and asked to repeat them backward.

After the green walks, the 17 children who participated in the study did
"shockingly better in general," Dr. Kuo said. The children, between the ages
of 7 and 12, appeared to catch up with their non-ADHD peers in the moments
after the walk.

Dr. Kuo said she doesn't know whether it's the greenness of the park, the
of buildings or some other mechanism at work, but she speculates that the
natural environment gives kids with ADHD a chance to recharge their
spans without any effort.

"[This study] is just a small piece of evidence," she said. "We can't say
exposure to nature completely erased ADHD symptoms - but that's our best
at this point.

She added that studies have shown that inner-city children suffer from ADHD
about three times the rate of children in rural areas.

Umesh Jain, a child psychiatrist at Toronto's Centre for Addiction and
Health, calls the psychological boost most people get in nature "the Muskoka
effect." The benefits, he said, could include a sense of grounding, and -
possibly more relevant to kids with ADHD - a sense of freedom from

Vikram Dua, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at BC Children's Hospital,
said the small size and narrow design of Dr. Kuo's study precludes making
generalization about the implications for ADHD.

"At the same time, the principles are something I would support," said Dr.
Dua, also an assistant clinical professor at the University of British
Columbia. "You want the kids out there in the green parks."

Dr. Jian agreed, saying the study is too preliminary to suggest an ADHD
treatment application. But, he said, other studies have shown, "What's good
for ADHD children is good for all kids."

Dr. Kuo said the next step is a randomized clinical trial to test the
She is especially interested in testing "around the margins" with children
whom ADHD medications work poorly or not at all.

Parents of children with or without ADHD might consider adding a walk to
pre-homework routines, since there is really no downside, Dr. Kuo said.
pretty sure going outside is not terribly risky."

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