ADHD News & Research

Moderate to Vigorous Physical Activity Benefits Children with ADHD

Children and adolescents with ADHD may benefit from moderate to vigorous physical activity, according to a new systematic review and meta-analysis that found a small but significant connection between ADHD symptom improvement and exercise, especially when used in conjunction with medication.

May 28, 2021

Moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) has a small but significant effect on ADHD symptoms in children, especially when used in conjunction with medication, according to a new review and meta-analysis published in the Journal of Attention Disorders.1 Unlike previous research on the benefits of exercise for ADHD, this study comprised a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized control trials (RCTs) “that included regular MVPA interventions for children and adolescents with ADHD and also measured post-differences in symptoms between intervention and control groups on a clinically valid ADHD rating scale.”

Researchers assessed ADHD symptoms after MVPA interventions using a valid rating scale. A random-effects meta-analysis was used to study outcomes.

This analysis revealed MVPA’s noteworthy and positive effect on core ADHD symptoms. Secondary outcomes suggested that MVPA could help functional impairment in social contexts. When subjects receiving MVPA interventions were compared to active control groups receiving pharmacotherapy alone, a medium-sized, non-significant effect was found in favor of pharmacotherapy. Trials implementing MVPA as a complement to pharmacotherapy demonstrated moderate, significant effects, compared to all control groups. MVPA delivered in groups and by professional trainers lead to the best results.

Compared to healthy controls, patients with ADHD are 21% less likely to meet guidelines for physical activity.2Therefore, it is particularly important for clinicians and patients with ADHD to understand the symptom-mitigation benefits of moderate to vigorous physical activity, and to consider exercise a component of any ADHD treatment plan.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends treating ADHD in children and adolescents aged 6 to 18 with FDA-approved medications, plus parent training in behavior modification and behavioral classroom interventions. Various research studies have found that “stimulant medications are most effective, and combined medication and psychosocial treatment is the most beneficial treatment option for most adult patients with ADHD.” 3All ADHD treatment decisions should be made in consultation and coordination with a licensed medical provider.


View Article Sources

1 Seiffer B, Hautzinger M, Ulrich R, Wolf S. The Efficacy of Physical Activity for Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of Attention Disorders. May 2021. doi:10.1177/10870547211017982

2 Mercurio, L. Y., Amanullah, S., Gill, N., Gjelsvik, A. (2019). Children with ADHD engage in less physical activity. Journal of Attention Disorders, 25(8): 1187–1195.

3 Kolar, D., Keller, A., Golfinopoulos, M., Cumyn, L., Syer, C., Hechtman, L. (2008) Treatment of Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. doi: 10.2147/ndt.s6985