Children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) may perform better in school after just twenty minutes of exercise.

The finding, published in the Journal of Pediatrics, came from a team of experts at Michigan State University who have demonstrated for the first time that kids with ADHD can focus better and become less distracted after a quick session of exercise. This is significant because “inhibitory control” is the biggest struggle people with the disorder have to deal with.

Matthew Pontifex, MSU assistant professor of kinesiology, and lead researcher, explained:

“This provides some very early evidence that exercise might be a tool in our nonpharmaceutical treatment of ADHD. Maybe our first course of action that we would recommend to developmental psychologists would be to increase children’s physical activity.”

Although current treatments for kids with ADHD have been successful for several of the 2.5 million school-aged children in the United States, the concerns parents and doctors have about adverse reactions and medication expenses are increasing.

For the purpose of the study, 40 kids (20 with ADHD) between the ages of 8 and 10 walked briskly on a treadmill or read while sitting down for a 20 minute period.

A short reading comprehension and math test, comparable to longer standardized tests, were given to the kids. A computer game was then played with rather simple instructions – to rapidly decide which way a cartoon fish was swimming, while disregarding visual stimuli.

According to the authors, all of the subjects had better results on both tests after the work out. Results from the computer game showed that participants with ADHD were able to focus better and slow down after making a mistake, in order to steer clear of future errors.

The concentration seen in the results is usually an especially difficult challenge for people with the disorder. In fact, a previous study indicated that kids with ADHD are almost twice as likely to get hurt, compared to those without the disorder, because of their inattentiveness.

The current research provides evidence that school kids need more physical activity incorporated into their daily schedule, Pontifex pointed out.

Although previous research has demonstrated that children with ADHD are less likely to participate in sports or be physically active, recess and physical education programs have been cut in several school due to smaller budgets.

Pontifex concluded:

“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. So what we’re trying to do is target our research to provide that type of evidence.”

Written by Sarah Glynn