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The effects of exercise on children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: February 2002 - Volume 34 - Issue 2 - p 203-212
CLINICAL SCIENCES: Clinically Relevant

TANTILLO, M., C. M. KESICK, G. W. HYND, and R. K. DISHMAN. The effects of exercise on children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 34, No. 2, pp. 203–212, 2002.

Purpose The effects of exercise on children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were evaluated by studying the rate of spontaneous eye blinks, the acoustic startle eye blink response (ASER), and motor impersistence among 8- to 12-yr-old children (10 boys and 8 girls) meeting DSM-III-R criteria for ADHD.

Methods Children ceased methylphenidate medication 24 h before and during each of three daily conditions separated by 24–48 h. After a maximal treadmill walking test to determine cardiorespiratory fitness (V̇O2peak), each child was randomly assigned to counterbalanced conditions of treadmill walking at an intensity of 65–75% V̇O2peak or quiet rest. Responses were compared with a group of control participants (11 boys and 14 girls) equated with the ADHD group on several key variables.

Results Boys with ADHD had increased spontaneous blink rate, decreased ASER latency, and decreased motor impersistence after maximal exercise. Girls with ADHD had increased ASER amplitude and decreased ASER latency after submaximal exercise.

Conclusions The findings suggest an interaction between sex and exercise intensity that is not explained by physical fitness, activity history, or selected personality attributes. The clinical meaning of the eye blink results is not clear, as improvements in motor impersistence occurred only for boys after maximal exercise. Nonetheless, these preliminary findings are sufficiently positive to encourage additional study to determine whether a session of vigorous exercise has efficacy as a dopaminergic adjuvant in the management of behavioral features of ADHD.

Departments of Exercise Science and Special Education, The University of Georgia, Athens, GA; and U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, Natick, MA

Submitted for publication November 2000.

Accepted for publication May 2001.

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.