Life Transitions and ADHD Counseling: ‘nature pill’ for better cognition

A recent article in The Oregonian describes a study that found that “living around greenery modestly fuels the brain in middle-aged women, helping to ward off depression and dementia”. Being outside in nature for at least 20 minutes leads to a reduction in hormonal stress levels and acts as an effective ‘nature pill’.

An additional health boost in helping people rebalance and improve their mental health state can be achieved by meeting a friend and socializing outside.

Being Outside Improves Cognition and Attention

“In the study, published in the medical journal JAMA Network Open, researchers measured ‘psychomotor speed, attention, learning and working memory’ in more than 13,000 women, with an average age of 61, who had completed self-administered online cognitive testing. The researchers estimated the subjects’ green-space exposure through a satellite imagery tool that detects and quantifies live green vegetation.”

“Adjusting for age, race and socioeconomic status, the study found ‘higher residential surrounding green space’ is associated with higher scores of overall cognitive function, psychomotor speed and attention.”

“The reason for this improved brain power appears straightforward: Being around green spaces promotes physical activity and calming thoughts – and reduces exposure to air pollution.”

“Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body, aid the ability to sleep well and improve immune function.”

Green Time For ADHDers

Separately, various studies have been done to determine if being outside is helpful for people with ADHD. “Studies led by University of Illinois researcher Frances Kuo, Ph.D., provide solid evidence linking time spent in natural surroundings to an increased ability to focus with ADHD.”
“The researchers found that, the greater the exposure to nature, the greater the attentiveness. These findings have been corroborated by objective measures of attention.

“The theory is that, when you have to struggle to maintain attention — what happens when you concentrate on a task like writing or doing computations — neurotransmitters in the brain’s prefrontal cortex get depleted. If you struggle too long without a break, you experience a condition that might be called ‘attention fatigue.’ You need to let the system replenish itself, and being in a natural environment seems to let it do that.”

“It’s a small step from this to ADHD, which is basically a chronic form of attention fatigue. The question is whether the positive effect of being in nature is big enough to produce a noticeable reduction in symptoms.”

The study found that the “focus was better following outdoor activities than after indoor activities, and that activities done in green environments, with lots of trees and grass around, lead to the biggest improvements in attention of all the outdoor activities.”

I recommend getting daily ‘nature pill’ or  ‘green time’ to all of my clients, whether it’s connected to exercise or not. Our mammalian nature finds outdoors calming and rebalancing, helping us with better regulation of our emotions, our diet and our sleep patterns. Contact Elaine Korngold to learn how therapy can help you resolve your emotional struggles.