A quick daily workout has been shown to help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder perform better academically and increase the focus on their work.
Michigan State University researchers, writing in the Journal of Pediatrics, report for the first time that kids with ADHD can better drown out distractions and train their attention on a task after just a few minutes of exercise.
"This provides some very early evidence that exercise might be a tool in our non-pharmaceutical treatment of ADHD," said Matthew Pontifex, an MSU assistant professor of kinesiology who led the study. "Maybe our first course of action that we would recommend to developmental psychologists would be to increase children's physical activity."
Drugs are typically used to treat the 2.5 million American children with ADHD, but parents and physicians worry about the side effects and costs.
For the study, researchers had 40 children — aged 8 to 10 years, half of whom had ADHD —spend 20 minutes walking briskly on a treadmill or reading while seated. The children then took a brief reading comprehension and math test, and also played a computer game in which they had to ignore visual distractions to quickly determine which direction a cartoon fish was swimming.
The results showed the children who exercised performed better on both tests. Those with ADHD also were better able to slow down after making an error to avoid repeat mistakes while playing the computer game — a particular challenge for those with the disorder.
Pontifex said the findings support calls for more physical activity for school children.
"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."
The research was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.