Aerobic exercise may offer new treatment option for ADHD

Published on November 1, 2012 at 5:15 PM · No Comments

By Helen Albert, Senior medwireNews Reporter

Research suggests that moderate aerobic exercise may offer a new treatment option for children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Writing in the Journal of Pediatrics, Matthew Pontifex (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA) and colleagues report that a single 20-minute moderate aerobic exercise session resulted in significant improvements in attention and academic performance in children with and without ADHD, compared with a similar period spent sitting and reading.

In addition, children with ADHD were more aware that they were making errors in the tests after exercise than reading.

Pontifex and team recruited 20 children with ADHD and 20 controls without ADHD, all aged between 9 and 10 years.

The children were asked to complete an attentional-control task (modified version of Eriksen flanker task requiring participants to press right or left button when indicated on screen) after two 20-minute periods of sitting and reading or exercise on a motorized treadmill at 65-75% of maximal heart rate.

The children wore scalp electrodes during the test to allow the researchers to carry out electroencephalography (EEG) and obtain event-related brain potentials. The participants also completed the Wide Range Achievement Test (WRAT) to assess their reading, spelling, and arithmetic performance after both 20-minute periods.

The overall response accuracy of the children with ADHD on the attentional-control task was lower than that of the control children, at 81.8% versus 88.8%. However, both groups had significantly improved response accuracy following exercise compared with following reading, at a combined group average of 87.1% versus 83.5%.

Both groups of children also showed significantly greater improvements in reading comprehension and arithmetic on the WRAT following exercise than following the reading condition, at combined averages of 115.2 versus 110.1 and 112.5 versus 110.0, respectively.

Children with ADHD displayed greater post-error slowing on the attentional-control test after exercise than reading, at 579.4 versus 500.3 ms. They also had a greater error-related negativity after exercise than reading on EEG. Both outcomes indicate an improved awareness of error making.

"Given that previous research has found that children with ADHD are less likely to participate in vigorous physical activity and organized sports compared with children without ADHD, our findings suggest that motivating children with ADHD to be physically active may have positive affects on aspects of neurocognitive function and inhibitory control," conclude the authors.

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