20-minute walk in park helps hyperactive kids concentrate


Washington : Hyperactive children who find doing routine tasks like homework or taking a test very difficult can improve their attention spans with a 20-minute walk in the park.

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The study on children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was conducted by child environment and behaviour researchers Andrea Faber Taylor and Frances E. Kuo of Illinois University.

“From our previous research, we knew there might be a link between spending time in nature and reduced ADHD symptoms,” said Taylor. “So to confirm that link we conducted a study in which we took children on walks in three different settings – one especially “green” and two less “green” – and kept everything about the walks as similar as possible.”

Some children took the “green” walk first; others took it second or last. After each walk, an experimenter who didn’t know which walk the child had been on tested their attention using a standard neurocognitive test called Digit Span Backwards, in which a series of numbers are said aloud and the child recites them backwards. It’s a test in which practice doesn’t improve your score.

“We compared each child’s performance to their own performance on different walks,” said Taylor. “And when we compared the scores for the walks in different environments, we found that after the walk in the park children generally concentrated better than they did after a walk in the downtown area or the neighbourhood. The greenest space was best at improving attention after exposure.”

The sample size was relatively small children – mostly because the logistics were a nightmare to coordinate. “Because we kept everything the same, the children all went to the same park and walked through the same neighbourhood and downtown area,” according to a press release of Illinois University.

The testing location had to be close by so that there wasn’t a lot of lag time between going for the walk and taking the post-test,” said Faber Taylor. “And each child was always paired with the same adult guide for their walks, and all the children were tested by the same tester.”

Kuo said that the variables of the study were very hard to control. “We started with a much larger sample size. But when we threw out all of the things that could go wrong – the weather wasn’t good one day, the child came late, or came medicated – when we threw out all of those, it left us with this relatively pure, clean sample to work with.”

“Because we have results from a national study which looked at over 450 children, we can have more confidence that this relationship between natural settings and improved attention is true not just for the children in this study,” added Taylor.

These findings were published in a recent issue Journal of Attention Disorders.