Many of us instinctively know the benefits and calming effects of nature on our physical and mental health. The last time you spent an afternoon hiking, or taken a stroll in a community park, you may have noticed upon your return to home that you were more focused, less depleted and in a better mood. This is not surprising since research shows that outdoor activities appear to have significant health benefits that continue after our time in nature (Barton & Pretty, 2010).
Most of our daily activities such as work, homework, driving, planning our day, making lists, etc. require focused and directed attention that can lead to mental fatigue. According to Kaplan’s (1995) research on Attention Restorative Theory (ART), being in natural environments or participating in activities that require an involuntary form of attention (e.g. captivating, gentle fascination), effortless curiosity, and a sense of escape will have restorative effects on the mind and promote overall wellbeing.
More importantly, research shows that children with ADHD who spend time in nature show reduced symptoms associated with impulsivity, attention and concentration (Kuo & Taylor, 2004). Green-time appears to promote long-term effects on these executive function domains, and therefore impacting functions related to academic, work, and relationship success. As if this was not enough… being outdoors also promotes an opportunity to engage in unstructured activities, increase communication, and social connectedness (Kuo et al., 1998).
Accordingly, spending time in nature is a solid investment in our wellbeing! In Ottawa, we are lucky to be surrounded by the Greenbelt and Gatineau Park, so nature is really not that far away! Green-time exercises can include: gardening, finding a calm location at a park and sitting for 20 minutes without access to technology, recording in a journal about seasonal changes, hike on a nature trail, visiting the Arboretum or the gardens at the Horticultural Museum, collecting wild flowers, leaves, pine cones or rocks and bringing them home for an art project.
While green-time improves attention, and mitigates symptoms of ADHD, it should be used as a supplemental approach to conventional and evidence-based treatment interventions which we provide at Bmindful Psychotherapy and Coaching Centre.
Child and Nature Network: http://www.childrenandnature.org/
Mood Walks: http://www.moodwalks.ca/about-mood-walks/the-nurture-of-nature-natural-settings-and-their-mental-health-benefits/
Green Cities: Good Health: http://depts.washington.edu/hhwb/Thm_Mental.html
Barton, J., & Pretty, J. (2010). What is the best dose of nature and green exercise for improving mental health? A multi-study analysis. Environmental Science and Technology, 44, 3947-3955.
Kaplan, S. (1995). The restorative benefits of nature: toward an integrative framework. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 15, 169-182.
Kuo, F. E., & Taylor, F. A. (2004). A potential natural treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: evidence from a national study. American Journal of Public Health, 94(9), 1580-1586.
Kuo, F. E., Sullivan, W. C., & Coley, R. L. (1998). Fertile ground for community: inner-city neighborhood common spaces. American Journal of Community Psychology, 26, 823-851.