Green Spaces

For the estimated 6.4 million children living with ADHD, it may be a struggle for them to sit still, control their impulses, or pay attention. Lack of focus may turn school into a major obstacle.

Treatment for ADHD generally involves stimulant medications, such as Adderall, Concerta, or Focalin. Therapy may also be prescribed to combat impulsive and hyperactive behaviors. However, not every child responds to the standard treatment for ADHD. Prescription drugs may also be costly and have side effects.

It’s sometimes hard to pinpoint the right treatment for kids with ADHD. However, researchers have been exploring alternative options that work alone or in combination with medication and therapy.

Researchers are now finding that being outdoors for just a few minutes each day may help kids with ADHD manage their symptoms.

What Does Green Space Therapy Involve?

One technique is called “green space therapy” or “green time.” It involves spending time in areas with grass and trees, such as a park, farm, soccer field, or yard.

Outdoor activities can include:

  • walking
  • gardening
  • backpacking
  • playing sports or other games 

Even sedentary activities like reading seem to have some positive effects on ADHD symptoms when done outside in green spaces. Also, children do not even have to go outdoors to take part in this therapy. Reading or doing homework by a window with a view of trees and grass seem to offer benefits.

Being outside in green spaces is easy for children who live in rural or suburban areas. However, it may be challenging for kids in urban areas. Researchers are investigating whether having children look at slides or videos of green spaces might be an alternative to going outside.

How Does Green Space Therapy Treat ADHD?

The benefit of green space therapy for ADHD is based on an idea environmental psychologists call “attention fatigue.” Even people without ADHD may have trouble paying attention and restraining their impulses when forced to focus their attention or block out stimuli.

For example, if you’ve ever had to focus on a speaker at a podium for a long period of time, it may be a challenge to ignore a buzzing cell phone or tune out the people around you.

Eventually, you may become worn out with the effort of having to pay attention. Now studies have shown that being outdoors in a green space may help you recover from attention fatigue.

Scientific Studies on Green Space Therapy

Several scientific studies give credence to the idea of using green spaces to treat ADHD.

In one study, the researchers found that symptoms improved when the activities were performed outdoors in green spaces instead of indoors or settings such as a parking lot or downtown area.

The effects were consistent for both boys and girls. It didn’t matter where the children lived, their ages, or the severity of their ADHD. It also didn’t seem to matter what activities the children were doing, as long as they did them outdoors.

The same authors also ran another study that found kids with ADHD who regularly play in green settings have milder symptoms than those who play indoors or in man-made outdoor settings.

They also tested the effects of exposure to green spaces on kids with ADHD living in the inner city. The researchers randomly assigned children in urban housing projects to apartment buildings that had either green views or city views. Kids who had access to green views scored better on impulse control tests than kids with city views.

A 2008 study by the same researchers found that children with ADHD performed better on attention tests after taking a 20-minute walk in a park than after taking a walk in a downtown area or residential neighborhood.

Other Benefits of Green Space Therapy

In addition to improving ADHD symptoms, exposure to green spaces can have more general health benefits. A Dutch study found that people living near green spaces have fewer physical and mental illnesses.

Other studies have also cited a number of additional health benefits for people who live in close contact with nature, including:

  • lower levels of stress
  • reduced blood pressure and other heart disease risk factors
  • improved mood and self-esteem
  • reduced risk of substance abuse
  • improved ability to interact socially with friends, family, pets, and wildlife
  • increased levels of physical activity

The Future of Green Space Therapy

The research that has been conducted on green space therapy for ADHD is promising. However, more studies still need to be done, including research to determine whether this kind of therapy might also help in the classroom.

Taking children outside has several advantages. It is inexpensive, accessible, and doesn’t have any side effects. Researchers say that exposing kids with ADHD to green settings could also be a helpful addition to medication and therapy.

There isn’t a specific amount of green time experts prescribe for children with ADHD, but they say that as little as 20 minutes in a park or backyard setting may help.

Improving children’s focus and impulse control through green space therapy may help them succeed in school by displaying improved impulse control and by being able to complete homework with less procrastination.