September 17, 2014
2 min read

Exercise before school day may reduce ADHD symptom severity

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Physical activity may reduce symptom severity and moodiness and improve peer functioning among children at risk for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in the home and school domain, according to study findings in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.

Betsy Hoza, PhD, of the department of psychological science at University of Vermont, and colleagues randomly assigned 94 children considered at risk for ADHD and 108 typically developing children to participate in a physical activity or sedentary classroom intervention for 31 minutes per day, each school day, for 12 weeks. Children were aged 4 to 9 years. The physical activity intervention consisted of continuous activity that required children to breathe hard or expend energy in a moderate to vigorous range. Children in the sedentary classroom intervention engaged in classroom-based art projects while remaining sedentary. Both interventions occurred before school started each day. Parents and teachers reported ADHD symptom severity before and after intervention. They also assessed children’s moodiness and peer functioning, reporting any problematic peer behavior.

Overall, parents and teachers reported a reduction in ADHD symptom severity post-intervention. According to parent reports, children in the physical activity intervention had a greater decrease in inattention severity than those in the sedentary classroom intervention. Teachers reported children at risk for ADHD experienced a greater reduction in symptom severity than typically developing children, regardless of intervention type.

Although parents reported significant improvement in oppositional symptom severity among children at risk for ADHD, teachers did not report this change.

Although teachers did not report change in ADHD symptoms for typically developing children in the physical intervention, they did report significant decreases in inattention and hyperactive and impulsive behaviors among typically developing children in the sedentary intervention. According to teacher reports, oppositional symptom severity did not change for typically developing children in either intervention.

Overall, parents reported improvements in moodiness. Moodiness improved more among children at risk for ADHD than typically developing children. Further, children in the physical intervention had greater moodiness improvement than children in the sedentary intervention. Teachers reported no change in moodiness before and after intervention.

Parents reported an overall decrease in problematic peer functioning, although reductions were greater among children at risk for ADHD compared with typically developing children. Teachers also reported an overall decrease in problematic peer functioning but reported no change in peer reputation.

Alan Smith, PhD

Alan Smith

Among children at risk for ADHD, only those in the physical intervention group improved peer reputation, according to parent reports. Teachers reported those at risk for ADHD in the physical intervention only significantly improved on peer behavior.

For typically developing children, problematic peer behaviors only improved among the physical intervention group.

“Although our findings indicated that all participants showed improvements, children with ADHD risk receiving exercise benefited across a broader range of outcomes than those receiving the sedentary activities,” study researcher Alan Smith, PhD, chairman of the department of kinesiology at Michigan State University, said in a press release. “Physical activity appears to be a promising intervention method for ADHD with well-known benefits to health overall. This gives schools one more good reason to incorporate physical activity into the school day.”

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.