ADHD News & Research

An Inactive Lifestyle May Hurt Boys’ Academic Progress

A new study shows lack of exercise may affect reading and math skills in young boys.

“Couch potato syndrome” – also known as a sedentary lifestyle – may have a negative effect on more than just a child’s physical health. According to a new study, published this month in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, a sedentary lifestyle might actually impair academic performance, too – at least in boys.

The study, conducted at the University of Eastern Finland, looked at 158 children – 89 boys and 69 girls. All were between the ages of 6 and 8, and were in 1st through 3rd grade at a Finnish primary school. Movement sensors and heart rate monitors were used to measure their physical activity levels over the course of four days, while standardized tests were used to measure grade-specific reading and math skills. Low levels of physical activity, combined with high levels of sedentary time, were strongly related to poorer reading skills in boys of all ages, while the youngest boys also showed a dramatic decrease in their math skills as physical activity decreased. No similar association was found for girls.

“Physical inactivity is a major public health problem in develop countries,” the authors write, with this study adding to the body of research demonstrating how consequences of inactivity can play out. “Increasing daily physical activity and decreasing sedentary time may improve academic performance,” they write — particularly in boys.

The study didn’t factor in ADHD. But since past research has found that boys with ADHD may be more likely to be heavy video game users – and thus may be more likely to have a sedentary lifestyle – parents may be inspired by the results to encourage their children to pursue an active lifestyle.

“The body was designed to be pushed, and when we push our bodies, we push our brains, too,” says John Ratey, M.D., a leading expert on exercise’s benefits for ADHD and the author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. “As far as our brains are concerned, if we’re not moving, there’s no real need to learn anything.”