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Playing Outdoors: Nature’s Solution to ADHD Symptoms

By HERWriter
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play outdoors: nature's ADHD solution MonkeyBusiness Images/PhotoSpin

Gone are the days when we would play outside until we heard our mothers calling us in for supper. The last 20 years have seen more and more children spending more and more time inside rather than outside.

As a result, in that same time frame, childhood obesity rates have more than doubled, the United States has become the largest consumer of ADHD medications in the world, and pediatric prescriptions for antidepressants have risen extremely quickly. (1)

The Benefits of Outdoor Play

Outdoor play:

• Increases fitness levels and builds active, healthy bodies

• Increases vitamin D levels, protecting against future bone problems, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues

• Improves distance vision and lowers the chance of nearsightedness

• May reduce ADHD symptoms

• Increases standardized testing scores in math, reading, writing and listening

• Increases critical thinking skills on tests

• Decreases children’s stress levels within minutes of seeing green spaces

• Protects children’s emotional development

• Enhances social interactions

Outdoor Play and ADHD Symptoms

“AD/HD affects up to 7% of children. Those afflicted have chronic difficulty paying attention and focusing on tasks and can be impulsive, outburst-prone, and sometimes aggressive.” (2) Current treatments are drugs and behavioral therapy.

Recent research findings suggest that adding trees and greenery where children spend a lot of time and “encouraging kids with AD/HD to play in greenspaces may help supplement established treatments to improve children’s functioning.” (2)

A University of Illinois Landscape and Human Health Lab’s study showed that playing or taking teaching outside in green areas can reduce ADHD symptoms.

Parents of children with ADHD who participated in the study indicated that activities that typically occur in green outdoor settings were the best for their child’s symptoms, and indoor or non-green outdoor activities were the worst for symptoms.

These parents also rated their child’s symptoms as better, on average, after activities in green settings than after activities in non-green settings. (2)

Research has also shown that kids with ADHD “tended to have milder symptoms if they regularly spent time in a green and open environment than if they played in a green space with lots of trees, or an indoor or built outdoor setting.” (3)

The conclusion drawn by authors Taylor and Kuo of the University of Illinois was that “[t]wenty minutes in a park setting was sufficient to elevate attention performance relative to the same amount of time in other settings. These findings indicate that environments can enhance attention not only in the general population, but also in ADHD populations. ‘Doses of nature’ might serve as a safe, inexpensive, widely accessible new tool in the tool kit for managing ADHD symptoms.” (4)

A school in Toronto, Canada has implemented a unique “green play” program to help their students. You can read about that in this article.

The program in this school and others is part of a growing movement in Canada to get children outside to play. Nature kindergartens and outdoor preschools are cropping up in several provinces modelled after the forest school model popular in the UK, Scandinavia and Germany.

If you’d like to read more on this topic, check out "Nature’s Ritalin for the Marathon Mind: Nurturing Your ADHD Child with Exercise" by Stephen C. Putnam in Google Books.


1. Health Benefits. National Wildlife Federation. Web. Accessed Dec 23, 2013.

2. Green Play Settings Reduce ADHD Symptoms. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Landscape and Human Health Laboratory. Web. Accessed Dec 23, 2013.

3. Playing in the grass may ease ADHD. Melina, Remy. NBC News. Web. Accessed Dec 23, 2013.

4. Children with attention deficits concentrate better after walk in the park. Taylor, AF. Journal of Attention Disorders. J Atten Disord. 2009 Mar;12(5):402-9. doi: 10.1177/1087054708323000. Epub 2008 Aug 25. Accessed Dec 23, 2013.

5. Kids with autism benefit from outdoor classroom. Gordon, Andrea. Toronto Star. Web. Accessed Dec 23, 2013.

Reviewed December 24, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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