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Acute Exercise Improves Mood and Motivation in Young Men with ADHD Symptoms


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: June 2016 - Volume 48 - Issue 6 - p 1153–1160
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000864
Applied Sciences

Purpose Little is known about whether acute exercise affects signs or symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults. This experiment sought to determine the effects of a single bout of moderate-intensity leg cycling exercise on measures of attention, hyperactivity, mood, and motivation to complete mental work in adult men reporting elevated ADHD symptoms.

Methods A repeated-measures crossover experiment was conducted with 32 adult men (18–33 yr) with symptoms consistent with adult ADHD assessed by the Adult Self-Report Scale V1.1. Measures of attention (continuous performance task and Bakan vigilance task), motivation to perform the mental work (visual analog scale), lower leg physical activity (accelerometry), and mood (Profile of Mood States and Addiction Research Center Inventory amphetamine scale) were measured before and twice after a 20-min seated rest control or exercise condition involving cycling at 65% V˙O2peak. Condition (exercise vs rest) × time (baseline, post 1, and post 2) ANOVA was used to test the hypothesized exercise-induced improvements in all outcomes.

Results Statistically significant condition–time interactions were observed for vigor (P < 0.001), amphetamine (P < 0.001), motivation (P = 0.027), and Profile of Mood States depression (P = 0.027), fatigue (P = 0.030), and confusion (P = 0.046) scales. No significant interaction effects were observed for leg hyperactivity, simple reaction time, or vigilance task performance (accuracy, errors, or reaction time).

Conclusion In young men reporting elevated symptoms of ADHD, a 20-min bout of moderate-intensity cycle exercise transiently enhances motivation for cognitive tasks, increases feelings of energy, and reduces feelings of confusion, fatigue, and depression, but this has no effect on the behavioral measures of attention or hyperactivity used.

Department of Kinesiology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA

Address for correspondence: Patrick J. O’Connor, Ph.D., Department of Kinesiology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-6554; E-mail:

Submitted for publication September 2015.

Accepted for publication December 2015.

© 2016 American College of Sports Medicine