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Exercise Boosts Academic Performance for Kids with ADHD

Update Date: Oct 17, 2012 10:49 AM EDT
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The benefits of staying physically active range from decreasing body weight, aiding with smoking cessation and and increasing cognitive performance. Focusing on this last feature, researchers have been able to determine that the mental health of all people can be improved by exercise, including those affected by disorders.

According to new findings published in the Journal of Pediatrics, kids with ADHD can better drown out distraction and focus on tasks with a single bout of exercise.

Kindergartners are often treated to a five minute exercise routine in the beginning of every school day. This helps children remain focused and alert, who may be otherwise distracted by sleepiness.

However, this practice becomes more scarce as children reach adolescents.

Providing children diagnosed with ADD, autism and especially children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder with an opportunity to exercise before the start of class or during the school day can help regain and retain their attention.

"This [study] provides some very early evidence that exercise might be a tool in our non-pharmaceutical treatment of ADHD," said Matthew Pontifex, 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."

In an experiment, researchers asked 40 children, half of whom had ADHD, between the ages of 8 and 10 to spend 20 minutes either walking on a treadmill or reading while seated. The children were then given a brief reading comprehension and math exam in the standardized test format.

In a separate experiment, the children were then exposed to visual stimuli while completing a computer game where student had to quickly determine which direction a cartoon fish was swimming.

According to the study, " the results showed all of the children performed better on both tests after exercising. In the computer game, those with ADHD also were better able to slow down after making an error to avoid repeat mistakes -- a particular challenge for those with the disorder."

Study authors see the findings as proof that children must be exposed to more physical activity during the school day. While school budget cuts are putting physical and artistic education programs on the chopping block, researchers say that the benefits of physical education are too high to simply ignore. 

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