ADHD News & Research

Exercise: The Key to Reducing ADHD Symptoms Over Time?

Two new studies seem to indicate that exercise may be a key in reducing ADHD symptoms over the long-term, not just the short-term.

The short-term benefits of exercise on ADHD symptoms are well known. Children and adults report feeling more focused and less hyperactive after a bout of aerobic exercise — particularly when it’s done before the beginning of the school — or workday. Now, however, research suggests that the benefits of exercise may have a positive effect on ADHD symptoms over time.

The first study, conducted by a team in Germany and published in the Journal of Attention Disorders, examined existing literature on the effects of exercise on children and adolescents with ADHD. Though researchers were unable to make specific recommendations on the frequency, duration, or type of exercise that would most benefit people with ADHD, they were able to trace a pattern of exercise’s positive effects on symptoms over time.

The second study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, looked at the exercise habits of older teens (ages 16 to 17) with ADHD, and examined their symptom improvement by early adulthood, or ages 19 to 20. The amount of exercise in the teenage years was inversely related to the severity of symptoms in early adulthood, no matter how severe the teen’s symptoms were at the outset.

Researchers of both studies readily admit that more data is needed, but the implications are positive – particularly for those who wish to take a meds-free route for ADHD treatment. While long-term studies have shown that ADHD medications are safe, some question their efficacy over time. One study, published in 2008, compared teens with ADHD in the U.S. to those in Finland — who are rarely treated with medication — and found almost no difference in symptom improvement. Exercise, if it proves to have long-term benefits, may be a more sustainable treatment option, with few side effects. Stay tuned.