ADHD News & Research

Study: ADHD Symptoms in Girls Diminish with Extracurricular Sports Activity

Consistent participation in organized sports reliably predicted improved behavior and attentiveness in girls with ADHD, according to a recent study of elementary school students active — and not active — in extracurricular activities. No such association was found for boys with ADHD.

October 16, 2020

Symptoms of ADHD in girls significantly diminished with consistent participation in organized sports, according to a new study published in the journal Preventive Medicine1. The research charted relatively improved behavior and attentiveness among girls with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) who regularly engaged in extracurricular sports or activities compared to those who did not, but it found no such association among boys with ADHD.

Participants came from a prospective-longitudinal birth cohort of 758 girls and 733 boys from Quebec, Canada. To understand the relationship between consistent participation in extracurricular sports and subsequent ADHD symptoms, researchers obtained reports from mothers on whether their child participated in organized physical activities with a coach or instructor at ages 6, 7, 8, and 10 years.  At age 12, teachers reported on the child’s ADHD symptom outcomes as observed at school over 6 months. ADHD symptoms were linearly regressed on trajectories of participation in organized sport in boys and girls.

Regular participation in organized sport significantly predicted lower subsequent ADHD symptoms in girls, compared with girls with low-inconsistent participation. However, no similar associations were found for boys.

Dr. Linda S. Pagani, professor in the school of psychoeducation at the University of Montreal in Canada, explained: “In childhood, boys with ADHD are more impulsive and more motor-skilled than girls. As a result, boys are more likely to receive medication for their ADHD, so faster diagnosis and treatment for boys in middle childhood could diminish the detectable benefits of sport.” On the other hand, ADHD in girls “is more likely to go undetected, and girls’ difficulties may be even more tolerated at home and in school. Parents of boys, by contrast, might be more inclined to enroll them in sports and other physical activities to help them.”2

Researchers concluded that early, continued involvement in organized sport with an instructor or coach could be beneficial for the subsequent behavioral development of girls with ADHD.

View Article Sources

1Pagani, Linda, et al. Childhood Exercise As Medicine: Extracurricular Sport Diminishes Subsequent ADHD Symptoms. Preventive Medicine (2020)

2Fewer ADHD Symptoms Seen in Girls Active in Youth Sports. Psychiatry and Behavioral Health Learning Network (Oct. 2020).