Tuesday, December 28, 2010

ADHD and the Great Outdoors

When I was interviewing adults for my Masters thesis, many told me how they love being outdoors. They spoke of their awareness of a need to exercise and be active, both as children and adults. They described an excess of energy that they 'need to burn off'. Consequently, they reported busy, active childhoods, with much time spent outdoors on bicycles and horses. Outdoor sport played a major role in their youth, with some claiming that it was all that got them through school. As adults, they described a restlessness, which is controlled when they are outdoors. Contact with nature is for them, a release from the pressure of their often-chaotic lives. Martin discussed his need to spend time surrounded by Nature as follows:

I just feel more open. I'm not claustrophobic. It's how my mind gets in tune with everything - the energy, the frequency. Who knows what it is? But it makes me feel very comfortable. I zone a lot better.

I'm not about to jump on the beat-up bandwagon and blame a lack of exercise for the existence of ADHD. On the contrary, my Masters thesis bears testimony to the fact that active, fit children can and do grow up to be adults struggling with ADHD. My motivation for writing this article is to remind you that exercise, and spending time outdoors, could make life easier on many fronts.

Dr John Ratey has spent years researching the positive effects of exercise on brain functioning. His book 'Spark' details the benefits of exercise, specifically for that beautiful ADHD Brain, and I would urge you to read it. He also provides a wealth of information on his website www.johnratey.com for those who like to read in short bursts. His message is simple : Exercise helps the brain learn!

A recent study, published in the Journal of Child Health Care Development (Van Den Berg & Van Den Berg, Dec 2010) found that outdoor, natural areas provide a consistent positive environment for children with ADHD. The aim of the study was to gain more insight into the behaviour, as well as the emotional and cognitive functioning of children in both natural and built settings. Two groups of six children who stayed at care farms for children with ADHD in the Netherlands were systematically observed, questioned and tested during visits to wooded areas and a small town. The results of the research showed that both groups performed better on a concentration test in the woods than in the town, despite the fact that all children visited the town after they visited the woods - meaning that their town results were possibly inflated as they were doing the same test for the second time. Behaviour-wise, the children differed. One group of children liked the woods better than the town, and displayed more positive behaviours & feelings in the woods. The other group of children liked the town and the woods equally, and they displayed positive behaviours & feelings in both settings. However, they showed more symptoms of ADHD and aggression in the town than in the woods.

Clearly, more research is needed to establish the effect of the physical environment on both children and adults with ADHD. However, in my opinion, it is important for people to pay attention to their responses in different environments. Where do I feel better? Where do I work better? Does my ideal environment change with the seasons? Become a self-sleuth and note your observations for future reference. Ask a coach to help you explore these options.

My challenge to you - commit to outdoor exercise 3 times per week for a month. See if it makes you feel better? Let me know.

Remember - you have many gifts - learn to make the most of them.

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