More Evidence That Physical Activity May Help Children With ADHD Concentrate


Children and teenagers who’ve been diagnosed with ADHD tend to perform more accurately on attention-demanding tasks when their bodies are moving rather than still, according to a study in Child Neuropsychology. The study reinforces other studies that have suggested that children with ADHD may be “using” physical movement in some way to help focus their attention.

“For the study, the authors recruited 26 children with validated ADHD diagnoses and 18 who were developing typically,” described a press release about the study from researchers at the MIND Institute at the University of California. “The participants’ movements were measured by affixing a device to their ankles that measured their level of activity while completing a ‘flanker test’ that requires good attention and the ability to inhibit paying attention to distractions.”

The children were aged 10-17. Notably, many of the children diagnosed with ADHD were taking medications regularly and were required to suddenly stop taking the medications prior to the test. “All participants prescribed medication did not take it for 24 hours before the experimental testing session,” explained the authors. “Of the 26 ADHD participants, 18 had a history of taking stimulant medication (15 were currently prescribed stimulant medication) and 4 had a history of taking non-stimulant medication (1 was currently prescribed non-stimulant medication). Participants started taking medication on average at 10 years of age.”

The authors wrote that, “The groups differed in regard to the intensity of physical activity during correct trials but not incorrect trials, with the ADHD group evidencing more intense rates of activity only for correct trials. This finding suggests that cognitive control functioning in ADHD may be enhanced by more intense activity, or that when a child with ADHD is using more cognitive resources, the child is also more likely to engage in physical activity.”

“One possible mechanism for a relationship between movement and performance is that children with ADHD use movement to self-regulate alertness,” suggested the authors. “Future research should investigate how opportunities for physical activities, particularly ones that are neither disruptive nor stigmatizing, can be used in academic settings to help children perform cognitively-demanding tasks. While there are currently tools on the market (e.g., fidget toys) that allow individuals to fidget without disrupting others, there has not been extensive research on their efficacy. Our findings also suggest that limiting movement in children with ADHD may potentially be detrimental to their cognitive performance.”

The study’s findings are similar to those of another study recently reported on by Mad in America.

Hartanto, T. A., C. E. Krafft, A. M. Iosif, and J. B. Schweitzer. “A Trial-by-Trial Analysis Reveals More Intense Physical Activity Is Associated with Better Cognitive Control Performance in Attention-Deficit/hyperactivity Disorder.” Child Neuropsychology 0, no. 0 (June 10, 2015): 1–9. doi:10.1080/09297049.2015.1044511. (Abstract)

Movement in ADHD may help children think, perform better in school (UC Davis press release on MedicalXpress, June 11, 2015)


  1. Exercise should be an integral part of assisting most children with behaviors that cause them to be labeled with the erroneous concept of ADHD. This would promote healthier children (and some real athletes) instead of promoting a belief that drugs solve social problems. Athleticism is highly regarded in our culture and may assist some children with social acceptance problems caused by problematic behaviors.

    I might detest my comments if I were the parent of a child with behaviors described as ADHD since I do not have the patience of a saint and do not see social services that could assist me (it takes a village).

    Best wishes, Steve

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  2. Remember just because there is diversity in people, their body, and brain function does not mean there is a problem. Instead a person is unique, and the outside world needs to adapt to that persons unique function to suit them as well as everyone else. What I mean is, the world is full of diversity, there is no normal, and humans are not crafted beings but we have many DNA types and ways of functioning and it isn’t ever going to be the same for each animal. Our random building blocks work differently in each person, animal, and thing.

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  3. I can’t believe this is even “news.” Learning specialists have known this for decades. So psychiatry is that far behind learning specialists? Learning specialists study how people learn, which when I was in elementary school. was vital, in fact. Each of us kids got tested early on. I believe parents were informed of where their child stood in terms of what their child’s strong points were and what the best approaches were. This included the basics, such as “which is the dominant hand?” How can arbitrarily rating your mental state on a scale of one to ten be more important than using your learning style to thrive in work and school? I knew classmates who got to college and did fine, since they already knew that they only way they could do well in academia was to chew gum and listen to loud music while cramming at the last minute for five exams simultaneously, much as it drove a few of us nuts. And yes, they did fine and are now working jobs. This was because back then, kids were honored and respected for who they were. We’re all crazy after all these years. I should hope so.

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  4. ADHD has as its signature problem a (lower than normal level of dopamine in the brain). Dr. John Ratey, in his book “Spark”, states that “exercise increases the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin”. I believe that kids Dx’ed with ADHD are unconsciously self medicating themselves by presenting with exercising behaviors such as tapping, knee twitching, gum chewing, up and down and walking around, and just plain fidgeting while in class, etc. Teachers who are not trained to recognize these behaviors as unconscious behaviors, sometimes take away the child’s recess privilege. Educators, Parents and clinicians, these children and young adults need EXERCISE before, during and after school….and before bedtime if they having trouble going to sleep.
    Limit children’s use of ‘glow screen devices’ , such as TV, Video Games. Tablets and Cell Phones. Use of these devices depletes ‘much needed’ neurotransmitters in their brains. Allow use of these devices as a reward for ‘good behavior’ and then only on a limited basis.

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  5. Well that explains it. My mom told me I was excellent at concentrating throughout my childhood. I was also sent to school on my bicycle. Driving kids to school was unheard of, as was ADHD. My nephews, on the other hand, grew up on XBox. If they were good, they got lots of it, if they were bad, it was taken away. I’m told they gave one of the kids “required” pills early on. I was told, “It was obvious he needed them,” and that, “he’s normal on them.” And as the years went on, more XBox. The few times I was allowed to visit, maybe twice in a decade, I couldn’t stand the sound and flashing light of that thing. Now, no contact, sadly. I grieve for my lost kids.

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