Ask any elementary teacher, and he or she will tell you that students with ADHD need their exercise. But is this backed up by research? Can exercise be a substitute for other evidence-based treatments such as medication and behavior therapy?
Research does indeed support that exercise assists with some symptoms of ADHD. In a 2014 study by Hillman, et al, (Pediatrics, 134(4)), students who were placed in an after-school exercise program demonstrated enhanced performance on inhibition and executive control. The students’ brain scans even showed more brain activity when given executive control tasks a day after the exercise!
So can exercise be a substitute for medication and/or behavior therapy? Researchers agree that while exercise is a very beneficial addition to other ADHD treatments, it has not been found to be a substitute. The evidence-based treatments that are most effective for treatment of ADHD continue to be stimulant medication, behavioral therapy, and their combination. However, exercise can be an important addition to the daily routine of a student with ADHD.
Ideas for incorporating exercise: