Research from Michigan State University and University of Vermont finds that daily aerobic exercise before school may help younger at-risk children in reducing symptoms of ADHD (including inattentiveness, moodiness, and difficulty getting along with others) in the classroom and at home.
The goal of the study was to assess the usefulness of a before school moderate-to-vigorous physical activity intervention, relative to a sedentary classroom-based intervention, for reducing ADHD and oppositional symptoms, moodiness, and peer difficulties in younger children.
Approximately 200 early elementary school students ranging from kindergarten to second grade participated in the study. Students were randomly assigned to one of the two before school interventions; physical activity or art activity in a sedentary classroom setting. Activities in both intervention groups were structured to be engaging and age appropriate. Each student participated in the assigned group for 31 minutes per day, each school day, for over a 12 week period.
Parent and teacher rated reports of ADHD symptoms (including hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention), symptoms of oppositional behavior and moodiness, and behavior toward and reputation with peers, were collected at both pre-intervention and post-intervention.
“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,” said Alan Smith, Ph.D., chairperson of Michigan State University’s Department of Kinesiology, who conducted the research along with lead author Betsy Hoza, Ph.D., psychologist from the University of Vermont.
Drs. Smith and Hoza noted that the research provides cautiously optimistic support for the possibility that regular moderate-to-vigorous physical activity before school is an effective strategy for improving some deficits associated with ADHD in young children.
“Despite the number of remaining questions, physical activity appears to be a promising intervention method for ADHD with well-known benefits to health overall,” said Smith. “This gives schools one more good reason to incorporate physical activity into the school day.”
“It’s really a no-lose situation to promote physical activity among America’s youth, especially in light of the rising obesity rate,” Hoza added.
Betsy Hoza; Alan L. Smith; Erin K. Shoulberg; Kate S. Linnea; Travis E. Dorsch; Jordan A. Blazo; Caitlin M. Alerding; George P. McCabe. “A Randomized Trial Examining the Effects of Aerobic Physical Activity on Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Symptoms in Young Children,” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, September 10, 2014.
Michigan State University Today, “Exercise Before School May Reduce ADHD Symptoms in Kids,” September 9, 2014.