Why Recess Is Non-Negotiable for ADHD Kids

A new study confirms the positive impact of exercise on the behavior, focus and mood of children with attention deficit disorder.
ADHD News Feed | posted by Devon Frye

As if we needed more proof that taking away recess is a counterproductive punishment, a new study indicates that exercising every day can actually help ADHD children focus better in class.

The study, recently published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, selected 202 children between the ages of 4 and 9 — about half of whom were "at risk" for ADHD. The students were randomly assigned to either 31 minutes of vigorous physical activity before school or 31 minutes of a sedentary classroom activity, like completing an art project. The study lasted for 12 weeks.

For the remainder of the day, parents and teachers rated the children on classic ADHD symptoms like inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. Other related symptoms like moodiness, oppositional behavior and behavior towards peers were also included in the results.

Children with and without ADHD showed across-the-board improvement after exercising — but the kids with ADHD took significantly greater strides. The biggest jumps were seen in the children's ability to focus and in their moods, both in school and at home. Parents also reported less oppositional behavior on the days their children exercised.

This positive impact of exercise has been backed up by previous studies that show a correlation between exercise and reduced ADHD symptoms. ADHD comes from deficiencies in the frontal lobe of the brain, which regulates attention, focus control and planning. Research shows that exercise strengthens the frontal lobe by sending blood and oxygen to the brain and boosting the production of brain chemicals that have been linked to memory, attention and cognitive ability.

"We must think of exercise as an essential component of treatment," says Dr. Ned Hallowell. "If your child has ADD, make sure his school doesn’t discipline him by keeping him inside during recess or forcing him to sit in detention."

The study may also serve as a rebuttal to the typical ADHD naysayer who argues that the 11 percent of kids aged 4 to 17 diagnosed with ADHD just need to learn how to sit still and be quiet. In fact, maybe a little running around is just what the doctor ordered.

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