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Exercise Helps Adults Manage ADHD

Exercise Helps Adults Manage ADHD

New research finds that even a small amount of exercise can help adults manage symptoms associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

University of Georgia researchers found a single bout of exercise has psychological benefits for adults with these elevated ADHD symptoms.

Health providers have discovered that about six percent of American adults report symptoms consistent with ADHD. Common characteristics may include anxiety, depression, low energy, and suppressed motivation — factors that may lead to poor performance at work or school and also increased traffic accidents.

The study appears in the journalĀ Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

“Exercise is already known as a stress reducer and mood booster, so it really has the potential to help those suffering with ADHD symptoms,” said the study’s senior author Patrick O’Connor, professor in the University of Georgia College of Education’s kinesiology department.

“And while prescription drugs can be used to treat these symptoms, there’s an increased risk of abuse or dependence and negative side effects. Those risks don’t exist with exercise.”

The study tested 32 young men with elevated ADHD symptoms who cycled at a moderate intensity for 20 minutes on one day, and on another day sat and rested for 20 minutes as a control condition.

The participants were asked to perform a task requiring focus both before and after the different conditions, and researchers noted leg movement, mood, attention, and self-reported motivation to perform the task.

Researchers discovered that after the exercise, participants felt motivated to do the task; they also felt less confused and fatigued and instead felt more energetic.

Interestingly, leg movements and performance on the task did not change after the exercise — rather, the exercise helped the young men feel better about doing the task.

These findings are consistent with prior research that shows a single bout of exercise helps people feel more energetic, said O’Connor.

The results suggest that young men who have symptoms of ADHD can benefit psychologically from the short workouts, similar to the benefits enjoyed by typical adults who work out.

“The reduced feelings of confusion and increased motivation to perform a cognitive task suggest that other types of acute exercise also may benefit cognitive performance,” added study co-author Kathryn Fritz, a University of Georgia doctoral student who completed the study as part of her master’s thesis.

“We speculate that a different mode or duration or intensity of exercise, other than a boring cycle ride in a sterile lab, may show larger cognitive effects for those suffering from ADHD symptoms.”

Source: University of Georgia

Exercise Helps Adults Manage ADHD

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Exercise Helps Adults Manage ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 17 Jun 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.