In the past 10 years, millions of kids have been introduced to amphetamines and other stimulants to address ADHD. The number of prescriptions increased from 34.8 to 48.4 million between 2007 and 2011 alone. This medication comes with high costs both financially and physically – with horrible side effects such as agitation, flattened mood, confusion, mood swings and upset stomach. Medication alone also doesn’t prevent ADHD, it simply masks the problem. Recent studies suggest cognitive behavioral therapy and neurofeedback could be a much safer alternative because they address the underlying problem without the harsh side effects of medication. More new studies are being done to find safer, more effective ways to manage and cure ADHD – without overmedicating. Recent findings suggest that plain old physical activity may also be a highly effective treatment for ADHD.
Physical activity is a high-yield investment for all kids, but especially those who are attentive or hyperactive. Physical movement improves mental focus, memory, and cognitive flexibility and new research supports just how critical it is to academic performance.
Pediatrics recently published research that found kids who took part in a regular physical activity program showed important enhancement of cognitive performance and brain function. The findings,”demonstrate a causal effect of a physical program on executive control, and provide support for physical activity for improving childhood cognition and brain health.” Furthermore, the improvements in kids who exercised regularly came in ‘executive control,’ which consists of inhibition (resisting distraction, maintaining focus), working memory, and cognitive flexibility (switching between tasks).
Another recent study found that a 12-week exercise program improved math and reading test scores in all kids, but especially in those with signs of ADHD. (Executive functioning is impaired in ADHD, and tied to performance in math and reading.)
Last year a very similar study in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that just 26 minutes of daily physical activity for eight weeks significantly allayed ADHD symptoms in grade-school kids. The modest conclusion of the study was that “physical activity shows promise for addressing ADHD symptoms in young children.”
John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard, suggests that people think of exercise as medication for ADHD. Even very light physical activity improves mood and cognitive performance by triggering the brain to release dopamine and serotonin, similar to the way that stimulant medications like Adderall do. He added, ‘physical exercise “is really for our brains.” He likened it to taking “a little bit of Prozac and a little bit of Ritalin.”
So, encourage your kids to put down those video games and go out and play! It’s good for our bodies, but it’s even better for our brains – no matter what age we are!