PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND ADHD: EVIDENCE ON DEVELOPMENTAL TRAJECTORIES, TRANSIENT AND DURABLE NEUROCOGNITIVE EFFECTS, AND REAL-WORLD APPLICATIONS
THE PROBLEM: Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the most common childhood mental health disorder in the United States, is the behavioral manifestation of neurodevelopmental delays. Physical activity (PA) is broadly accessible, culturally acceptable, and influences many of the same neurocognitive systems delayed in ADHD. These factors make PA a potential tool in treatment and management plans. This selective qualitative review synthesizes findings from studies investigating PA, fitness, and motor coordination in ADHD. INCLUSION AND EXCLUSION CRITERIA: Studies of PA [and related constructs] in youth on the spectrum for ADHD. MAIN RESULTS: Cross-sectional studies suggest children with ADHD evidence similar or higher PA levels than typically developing peers in childhood—a period when most PA is free play—but any advantages dissipate by adolescence, as PA programs become increasingly structured and selective. In adulthood, individuals with ADHD are more likely to be obese and less likely to meet healthy lifestyle guidelines. Longitudinal studies suggest that PA at earlier life stages predicts symptom severity in subsequent stages. Acute bout experiments suggest transient benefits on neurocognitive function following moderate-intensity activity of limited duration. Multi-week intervention studies have tested diverse formats with results that differ based upon the chosen outcome and comparison group utilized. CONCLUSION AND PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS: Existing research suggests youth with ADHD may benefit most from PA interventions that challenge cognition and fundamental movement skills in childhood, empower youth to participate in structured programs and meet PA guidelines in adolescence, and strategically time PA bouts to maximize focus during difficult periods of daily routines.