Scientist ‘Paying Attention’ to Effects of Exercise on ADHD

For every physical and mental ailment known to man, scientists are constantly researching new ways to prevent, treat and cure the problem. A small study was conducted at the University of Georgia to determine preliminary effects of exercise on ADHD and other mental health afflictions like depression.

Effects of Exercise on ADHD and DepressionThe study’s author, Patrick J. O’Connor, Ph.D., a Professor with the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Georgia in Athens, GA, published the findings in the journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

The study, entitled ‘Acute Exercise Improves Mood and Motivation in Young Men with ADHD Symptoms‘, was too small to offer any conclusive findings. It involved just 32 male subjects who had reported symptoms of ADHA, and of those 32, only two of the had actually received an official diagnosis by a licensed psychiatrist. However, it at least gave scientists some insight on the benefits of exercise for ADHA patients.

Testing Effects of Exercise on ADHD

The research team started by testing each subject’s abilities in areas of mental fluency. This included their capacity to pay attention, their motivation towards performing mental tasks, hyperactivity in their legs and their overall mood. They were then asked to ride an exercise bike for 20 minutes, followed by the same type of testing.

For comparison purposes, the same mental exercises were performed on the subjects before and after simply sitting for 20 minutes.

The study hypothesized that exercise would stimulate the brain in a similar fashion as medications often prescribed to patients with ADHD and/or depression.

The study’s conclusion wasn’t exactly what scientists were hoping for, but is a definitive move in the right direction. They concluded that both motivation and energy levels were enhanced by exercising. Subjects also reported they felt less fatigued, depressed and confused after working out.

“There is very strong and consistent evidence that a single short, moderate-intensity bout of exercise is associated with increased feelings of energy,” explained Dr. O’Connor. “So if people need a reason to work out, the energy boost with exercise is a worthwhile one.”

While the author noted that the beneficial effects are only short-term, researchers were pleased to find that the subjects were offered instant relief of some ADHD symptoms immediately after exercising.

“The effects of acute moderate exercise may not last as long as the effects of stimulant medications based on findings from the current study, but the effects of acute exercise could be more immediate, meaning individuals who exercise could benefit sooner than those who chose to use a stimulant medication,” wrote Dr. O’Connor.

It was also noted that patients who don’t have their medication readily available during an outbreak of symptoms could use a 20-minute moderate-intensity exercise as “a useful adjunct for immediate ADHD symptom management.”

Clearly, more research is needed to determine the long-lasting effects of daily exercise on ADHD, but there are a lot of previous studies – much larger ones, in fact – that point to a definitive benefit of exercise on depression.

In 2015, researchers suggested that regular exercise could help to prevent the onset of depression in the first place. Exercise is believed to release hormones and chemicals in the brain that naturally enhance a person’s mood, therefore making them less susceptible to negative mental states like depression.

Clearly, more research is needed on the subject, but doctors are already recommending regular fitness and exercise as a first-line treatment for a wide range of mental disorders.

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