Kids: Move More, Focus Better

ADHD was improved after twenty minutes of exercise

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The benefits of exercise go on and on for people of all ages. But for children with ADHD, physical activity may help concentration too.

A recent study found that even a short amount of extra exercise helped kids with ADHD focus better.

This study's results means children with mental health issues can benefit from some form of exercise.

"Encourage physical activity for kids."

The study, led by Matthew B. Pontifex, PhD, from the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, aimed to find out whether exercise helped children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) focus better.

Two groups of children, aged 8 to 10, were involved in the study.

One group included 20 kids who had been diagnosed with ADHD or whose parents or school officials suspected had ADHD. All these children were assessed to be sure they were currently exhibiting ADHD symptoms that would indicate they have the condition.

The second group, also with 20 kids, were matched to the first in terms of age, gender, stage of puberty and socioeconomic status but had no psychiatric conditions.

The children were also equivalent in average IQ, had no uncorrected vision problems (which might contribute to behavior problems) and were not taking any medications for the past month that might affect their nervous system.

All the children were given a series of tasks on three different days to measure their ability to control their attention and their performance on math and reading tests.

On one of these days, the children sat reading for 20 minutes before being tested. On another day, they walked at a fast pace on a treadmill for 20 minutes before being tested.

The children with ADHD performed more poorly overall than the children without ADHD, but both groups had better scores after the exercise compared to after the reading.

"This provides some very early evidence that exercise might be a tool in our non-pharmaceutical treatment of ADHD," said Dr. Pontifex in a release.

"Maybe our first course of action that we would recommend to developmental psychologists would be to increase children's physical activity."

The attention task was a computer game in which the students had to accurately determine which way a fish was swimming despite distractions.

The children with ADHD did a better job of slowing down to get the answer correct more often after they had exercised.

If the findings of the study are confirmed by more research, these results may provide options to parents who are concerned about giving their children medications with concerning side effects to treat ADHD.

The study notes that 44 percent of US children with ADHD do not take medications for their condition, so exercise may help them as well.

The study was published October 16 in the Journal of Pediatrics. The study was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 24, 2012
Last Updated:
October 26, 2012