Exercise & Green Time

Daily Exercise Ideas for Children with ADHD

Research suggests that aerobic exercise can help decrease symptoms and improve functioning in children with ADHD. Here, ideas for incorporating physical activity into your child’s daily routine.

A group of children running, a smart exercise idea for kids
Group of kids running
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Put the Physical In Education

A growing body of research shows that exercise can reduce ADHD symptoms and improve cognitive functioning in children.1 Learn more about the connection here, and how to incorporate physical activity into all areas of your child's life.

A cartoon brain with information about exercise, travel, and kids streaming out
Cartoon head and brain blue and white
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How Exercise Helps

Exercise is associated with a boost in the brain's neurotransmitters, including the chemicals that many people with ADHD are thought to run short on.1 It also increases the amount of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) available, which plays an important role in learning1, ADHD or not.

Overall, exercise is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle, and is important for optimal functioning. Take sleep problems, which are common in ADHD. One study shows that physical activity may help mediate the ADHD impact of sleep difficulties in children.2

A young student using a tablet in class, looking up exercise ideas she can do with other kids
Pupils In Class Using Digital Tablet
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At School

Exercise can prime the brain for learning. Indeed, a study showed that children with ADHD (and healthy controls) improved in math and reading skills after 20 minutes of aerobic exercise (going on a treadmill at an intensity between 65% and 75% of their maximum heart rates).3 Another study showed that 30 minutes of exercise before school improved ADHD symptoms, moodiness, and peer functioning in children (compared to the sedentary control group) according to parent and teacher ratings.4

Get creative! Jumping jacks, sprints, and other bursts of aerobic exercises before and during class (and in recess) may prime your child's brain for learning.

Another way teachers can sneak in physical activity? Ask students to help hand out supplies, collect papers, or deliver messages. Wiggle chair or fidgets can also help extra active kids sit still without disrupting others.

[Read: Exercise and Sleep — The Better Brain Therapies Your Child Needs]

 

A family hiking together in the woods, a great exercise idea for kids
Family Group Hiking In Woods Together
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Green Space

Research shows that green space has a positive impact on cognitive skills and symptoms in children with ADHD.5 One study even suggests that living in a residential area with higher density of green space in early life may lower the risk of developing ADHD.5

Exposure to parks and outdoor activities like camping, fishing, or just running around in the woods are just some of get more green time.

A happy family playing together during the summer
Happy family playing together
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After School

Get children moving after school! Have them walk or bike home (if safe). Once your child is home, set a timer for 30 minutes of physical activity before they start on homework or other sedentary activities. Make sure to reward your child afterward to increase their motivation.

An after-school karate class, swim lesson, or soccer practice are all great ideas, but free time running around the park works, too. Ask your child what they've learning in gym class, and encourage them to practice the new skills.

Set up play dates at a friend's. Children are less likely to be sedentary when at someone else's house.

A ADHD boy enjoying rock climbing at indoor climbing gym, healthy and active lifestyle concept
A ADHD boy enjoying rock climbing at indoor climbing gym, healthy and active lifestyle concept
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Sign Up for Sports & Activities

Sports can increase your child's confidence and help them work toward goals. Team sports specifically are associated with greater executive function benefits in children, as they demand more cognitive engagement.6

Traditional martial arts, particularly Taekwondo, which emphasizes character development and self-control, has been linked to improved executive functions in children.7

No matter the exercise, help your child find a physical activity they absolutely love to do — and the benefits of exercise will come.

Exercise Ideas: Next Steps


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Research suggests that aerobic exercise can help decrease symptoms and improve functioning in children with ADHD. Here, ideas for incorporating physical activity into your child's daily routine.
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Sources

1Mehren, A., Reichert, M., Coghill, D., Müller, H., Braun, N., & Philipsen, A. (2020). Physical exercise in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder - evidence and implications for the treatment of borderline personality disorder. Borderline personality disorder and emotion dysregulation, 7, 1. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40479-019-0115-2

2Hong, G. C. C., Conduit, R., Wong, J., Di Benedetto, M., & Lee, E. (2021). Diet, Physical Activity, and Screen Time to Sleep Better: Multiple Mediation Analysis of Lifestyle Factors in School-Aged Children with and without Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of Attention Disorders, 25(13), 1847–1858. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054720940417

3Pontifex, M. B., Saliba, B. J., Raine, L. B., Picchietti, D. L., & Hillman, C. H. (2013). Exercise improves behavioral, neurocognitive, and scholastic performance in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The Journal of pediatrics, 162(3), 543–551. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2012.08.036

4Hoza, B., Smith, A. L., Shoulberg, E. K., Linnea, K. S., Dorsch, T. E., Blazo, J. A., Alerding, C. M., & McCabe, G. P. (2015). A randomized trial examining the effects of aerobic physical activity on attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms in young children. Journal of abnormal child psychology, 43(4), 655–667. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-014-9929-y

5Thygesen, M., Engemann, K., Holst, G. J., Hansen, B., Geels, C., Brandt, J., Pedersen, C. B., & Dalsgaard, S. (2020). The Association between Residential Green Space in Childhood and Development of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Population-Based Cohort Study. Environmental health perspectives, 128(12), 127011. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP6729

6Den Heijer, A. E., Groen, Y., Tucha, L., Fuermaier, A. B., Koerts, J., Lange, K. W., Thome, J., & Tucha, O. (2017). Sweat it out? The effects of physical exercise on cognition and behavior in children and adults with ADHD: a systematic literature review. Journal of neural transmission (Vienna, Austria : 1996), 124(Suppl 1), 3–26. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00702-016-1593-7

7Diamond A. (2012). Activities and Programs That Improve Children's Executive Functions. Current directions in psychological science, 21(5), 335–341. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721412453722

1 Comments & Reviews

  1. At high school I needed to either walk or ride a bike to school.
    If I was driven, I arrived still half-asleep.
    At junior school, a group of us would run the mile to school.

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