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Associations among physical activity, ADHD symptoms, and executive function in children with ADHD

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Jennifer I. Gapin (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Jennifer Etnier

Abstract: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the leading childhood psychiatric disorders and is a costly public health problem. ADHD causes multiple impairments and while stimulant medications are effective in treating core symptoms of ADHD, some children are not responsive to medications, there is little known about their long-term effects, and they can cause numerous deleterious side effects. Research suggests that physical activity positively impacts some of the same neurobiological mechanisms that have been implicated in ADHD and may have a particularly beneficial effect for children with ADHD by moderating fundamental cognitive deficiencies and behavioral symptoms that characterize this disorder. One of the primary cognitive impairments in ADHD children is executive function (EF). Children with ADHD consistently perform worse on a range of EF tasks relative to those without ADHD (Wilcutt et al., 2005). There is extensive research to support that physical activity selectively improves EF performance in older adults (Colcombe & Kramer, 2003) and some evidence that it has a small effect on cognition in children (Sibley & Etnier, 2003; Tomporowski et al., 2008). Despite evidence and rationale supporting the potential for physical activity to benefit children with ADHD, there is very little research in this area. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate the extent to which physical activity is associated with ADHD symptoms and EF task performance in children with ADHD. Eighteen boys (M age = 10.61, SD = 1.50), who had been diagnosed by a medical professional and were currently taking stimulant medication, were recruited from the community for participation in the study. Children came to the testing site to complete four measures of EF: planning (Tower of London); working memory (Digit Span); processing speed (Children's Colors Trails Test 1 and 2); and inhibition (Conner's Continuous Performance Test, CPT II). Parents completed rating scales (ADHD Rating Scale IV; Behavior Assessment System for Children, 2nd Edition) to assess their child's ADHD symptoms. The most relevant outcome variables from each task and the rating scales were chosen for analysis. Physical activity was measured with an accelerometer (Yamax NL-1000) that participants wore for seven consecutive days providing daily step counts (steps) and minutes per day spent in moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity (MVPA). Regression analyses were used with physical activity as a predictor of EF performance and ADHD symptoms. Results revealed that MVPA was a significant predictor of performance on the Tower of London, adjusted R2 = .28, F (1, 16) = 7.61, p < .05. Additionally, although non-significant, correlations for 5 of the other 6 EF outcome measures with both measures of physical activity (steps and MVPA) were in the hypothesized direction, with higher physical activity predictive of better EF performance. There were no significant results for ADHD symptoms. This study provides promising results that physical activity is associated with EF, specifically planning abilities, in children with ADHD. These findings are especially encouraging given that the participants were all receiving medication treatment for ADHD. Given that EF deficits in ADHD children negatively affect their school experience and performance, further research is warranted to examine the impact of physical activity on EF in ADHD children.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2009
ADHD, Executive Function, Exercise
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder $x Children.
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder $x Exercise therapy.
Cognition $x Effect of exercise on.
Exercise $x Psychological aspects.
Cognition in children.