Exercise Boosts School Performance for Kids With ADHD

By  Associate News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on October 17, 2012

A few minutes of exercise can help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) perform better academically, according to a new study.

Led by a researcher at Michigan State University, the study shows that a single bout of exercise can help kids with ADHD drown out distractions and focus on a task.

“This provides some very early evidence that exercise might be a tool in our non-pharmaceutical treatment of ADHD,” said Matthew Pontifex, Ph.D., MSU assistant professor of kinesiology, who led the study, which was published in the Journal of Pediatrics.

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

For the study, Pontifex and his colleagues asked 40 children aged 8 to 10, half of whom had ADHD, to spend 20 minutes either walking briskly on a treadmill or reading while seated.

The children then took a brief reading comprehension and math exam similar to longer standardized tests. They also played a computer game in which they had to ignore visual stimuli to determine which direction a cartoon fish was swimming.

The results showed all of the children performed better on both tests after exercising. In the computer game, those with ADHD also were better able to slow down after making an error to avoid repeat mistakes, a particular challenge for those with the disorder, according to the researcher.

Pontifex said the findings support calls for more physical activity during the school day. Other researchers have found that children with ADHD are less likely to be physically active or play organized sports.

Meanwhile, many schools have cut recess and physical education programs in response to shrinking budgets.

“To date there really isn’t a whole lot of evidence that schools can pull from to justify why these physical education programs should be in existence,” he said. “So what we’re trying to do is target our research to provide that type of evidence.”

Pontifex conducted the study for his doctoral dissertation at the University of Illinois before joining the MSU faculty.

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