Research indicates the tremendous benefits of utilizing exercise with all children, including those with symptoms of ADHD or autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Research on ADHD and Exercise
Experts at Michigan State University have demonstrated that children diagnosed with ADHD have better focus and are less distracted after a 20-minute exercise session. Matthew Pontifex, assistant professor of kinesiology at Michigan State University, and lead researcher for the study said:
“This provides some very early evidence that exercise might be a tool in our nonpharmaceutical treatment of ADHD. Maybe our first course of action that we would recommend to developmental psychologists would be to increase children’s physical activity.”
Here is a brief summary of the study as reported in research.msu.edu in October 2012.
“Pontifex and colleagues asked 40 children aged 8 to 10, half of whom had a diagnosis of ADHD, to spend 20 minutes either walking briskly on a treadmill or reading while seated. The children then took a brief reading comprehension and math exam similar to longer standardized tests. They also played a simple computer game in which they had to ignore visual stimuli to quickly determine which direction a cartoon fish was swimming.
The results showed all of the children performed better on both tests after exercising. In the computer game, those with ADHD also were better able to slow down after making an error to avoid repeat mistakes – a particular challenge for those with the ADHD.
Pontifex said the findings support calls for more physical activity during the school day.”research.msu.edu
Research Studies on Autism Spectrum Disorder and Exercise
Research studies show that physical activity is beneficial in reducing stereotypic behaviors, and improving appropriate behaviors, social skills, and motor skills in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). For more on autism research and exercise see:
- Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Physical activity: A Descriptive Synthesis
- Beneficial Use and Potential Effectiveness of Physical Activity in Managing Autism Spectrum Disorder
- The Effects of Structured Physical Activity Program on Social Interaction and Communication for Children with Autism
Related Article: 15 Behavior Strategies for Children with Autism
What Are Some Other Potential Benefits of Exercise for People with ADHD and ASD?
Research shows that exercise leads to improved self-esteem and health. Physical activity has also been shown to help decrease anxiety and depression. So teaching good exercise habits early can lead to a lifetime of benefits.
Physical Activities for Students with ADHD or ASD
Exercise Ideas for School and Home
Try some of these exercises as a break from the normal class routine or while your child is at home, maybe before a homework session.
Depending on your child’s age and physical capabilities you will have to decide how long the activities should last. Start with 5 to 20-minute sessions.
You can pick one activity or do a few different ones for a few minutes each. If you are only doing a short session, such as five minutes, try to do a few a day.
Stretch to Warm Up
Do Jumping Jacks
Run in Place
Dance to Music
Play “Aerobic Simon Says” (e.g., Simon says do 10 jumping jacks, Simon says touch your toes 10 times in a row, Simon says jump up and down 20 times, etc.)
Do a Dance or Exercise Video
In the Community: (Try Some of These Activities to Get Your Child Moving Outside)
Stretch to Warm Up
Jog or Run
Play Tag (If your child does not have a friend to play with, play with your child)
Ride a Bike
Kick a Soccer Ball Around
Incorporating Exercise Into Learning
You can even try incorporating exercise into learning. This is a great way to keep active kids motivated. For example, if you are studying with your child for a vocabulary test, write the words on index cards and tape them to the wall.
When you call out a definition (e.g., for solution – as shown above – you might say an answer to a problem) , have your child run to the word and run back to you to hear the next definition. Try putting two to ten words on the wall.
I challenge you to think of a way to incorporate movement into your own learning activity.
Keep in Mind: Since exercise leads to improved learning, focus, behavior, (mental and physical) health, and self-esteem; don’t take recess away as a punishment. For some kids, recess is the only exercise they get.
Please Don’t Take Away My Recess-A Poem About ADHD
15 Behavior Strategies for Children on the Autism Spectrum
14 Strategies to Help Kids with ADHD in the Classroom or At Home
6 Research-Based Interventions for the Treatment of ADHD in Children
Please comment below with any exercises or movement ideas you have! I would love to hear from you!
Exercise is one way to help children improve learning and behavior, but there are many effective strategies that can be used along with exercise.
Education and Behavior – A Free Resource for Parents, Educators, Therapists, and Counselors to Support Children: Keeping Us on the Same Page Since 2014.
Rachel Wise is the author and founder of Education and Behavior. Rachel created Education and Behavior in 2014 for adults to have an easy way to access research-based information to support children in the areas of learning, behavior, and social-emotional development. As a survivor of abuse, neglect, and bullying, Rachel slipped through the cracks of her school and community. Education and Behavior hopes to play a role in preventing that from happening to other children. Rachel is also the author of Building Confidence and Improving Behavior in Children: A Guide for Parents and Teachers.
“Children do best when there is consistency within and across settings (i.e., home, school, community). Education and Behavior allows us to maintain that consistency.”