A group of Taiwanese researchers has established a link between routine physical activity and improved self-control for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), expressing hope that exercise might one day replace medication for the common childhood behavioral disorder.
The head of the research team, National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) Department of Physical Education professor Hung Tsung-min (洪聰敏), said that ADHD affects about 9 percent of children in Taiwan and that an estimated 108,000 of the nation’s 1.2 million elementary-school students have the disorder.
“Many children with ADHD have difficulty sustaining attention and controlling their impulsive thinking, which often impede their academic performance, social relationships, work and even psychological health,” Hung told a press conference in Taipei yesterday morning.
Hung said people with ADHD have relatively lower levels of dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain that regulates behavior, mood and concentration, leaving many dependent on dopamine-boosting drugs to improve their capabilities.
“As exercise has been proven to help spark dopamine production, my research team started a series of studies in 2011 to find the most effective ‘physical activity prescription’ for children who have the diagnosis,” he said.
The research team found in its first study that children with ADHD who have good motor skills tend to perform better on inhibitory control tasks.
It then assigned 27 children aged between eight and 12 with ADHD to either an aquatic exercise or a waiting-list control group to determine whether exercise interventions could improve impulse control among the kids.
Participants were given what is known as a “go/no-go test” — which required them to press a button whenever a green light appeared and refrain from doing so when seeing a red light — before and after an eight-week exercise intervention that involved two 90-minute-sessions each week.
“There was no significant difference between the performances of the two groups in the pre-test, with the exercise group yielding an average accuracy rate of 88.64 percent and the control group a rate of 88.85 percent,” Hung said.
However, after the intervention, the accuracy rate of children in the exercise group increased by about 6 percent to 94.31 percent, Hung said.
The research team’s findings have been published in a number of international journals, including the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, the Journal of Psychophysiology and the Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology.
Hung advises the parents of children with ADHD to make exercise — such as rope jumping and jogging — part of their kids’ daily routine, as physical exertion could provide a calming effect and help improve the youths’ concentration.