Saturday, April 21, 2007

Exercise and behavior including ADHD

Exercise as a treatment for ADHD

ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder the name seems to suggest that an increased activity level is part of the disorder. Tell me why then, there are so few scientific studies on the benefits of exercise in ADHD? This can only represent gross negligence on the part of the medical-scientific establishment. This had to be said, now what do we know?

Two studies indicate that children with ADD/ADHD may be resistant to exercise. Their stress hormones do not increase during exercise as much as normal children. It is also likely that in order to be beneficial, the exercise has to be intense.

Intense exercise means getting out of breath and/or breaking a sweat. The heart rate increases more during this kind of exercise. Parents should know that some medications may increase risk for heart rhythm problems, so check with your doctor.

Some specific recommendations

Based on my best guess and government recommendations for all children, I recommend the following. All children require one hour of exercise each day. Children with ADHD may require more. The exercise has to be vigorous, like running around the field playing soccer or court playing basketball. Walking, biking and swimming are also good provided the child maintains a fast pace. Karate and other martial arts may be good for strength and focus but generally the workout isn’t vigorous enough.

Just like children with ADHD do not like to sit and focus and are often shifting from one new pleasure to the other, they may refuse to focus on exercise for a long period of time. I once took a group of kids to the beach. There was an 11 y/o boy with ADHD with us. Although he was hyperactive, and fidgeted a lot, he had the least ability/desire to sustain physical effort. But you know that when we got home he ran around the house like a mad man.

Getting kids to exercise requires time and effort. Your child’s one hour a day requirement can be met in smaller chunks like 20 minutes three times a day. I strongly recommend you at least take walks with your child. In exercising with your child you show him that you think exercise is important.

If you start an exercise program and see improvements in your child’s behavior, please write me and share your story. For more on exercise see


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-Elaine said...

Dr. Leedom, I have recently noticed that my child was staying awake 2 to 3 hours past her bedtime. This would drive me crazy, so I'm not sure how an ADHD child was managing to stay in bed. We started taking these really long walks about 5 days ago. We have just started to add jogging (she is 6) to the mix and now she is sleeping within 45 minutes of her head hitting the pillow.

This has not only helped with her sleeping, but we are taking the time away to bond without all the rules and regs that we have at home which she has such a difficult time following.

Dr. Leedom said...

Please contact me at if you do not have my book.

Would you also consider participating in our online exercise group? see I want us to keep records together about what we are doing because we need to get the word out that exercise may reduce the need for medication in some kids. I have noticed the same thing regarding sleep in my son. With exercise he sleeps a healthy 9-11 hours without it only 7 or 8. Cannot be a coincidence.