Exercise May Help Focus Attention for Those with ADHD

Previous studies have shown that exercise has a positive effect on attention for individuals with ADHD. Most of thees studies have focused on measuring improvement in attention following exercise.  A new study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, shows that attention is substantially improved during exercise.

Exercise is thought to increase the levels of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex and thus lead to improved attention and cognitive functioning following the physical activity. These effects have been noted in both adults and children. In the new research, led by Yuri Rassovsky and Tali Alfassi at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, it was found that these improvements occurred during exercise as well.

The researchers had study participants respond to high pitched tones while walking on a treadmill. Sometimes the high pitched tone was preceded by a low pitch tone (“warned”), and about 20% of the time it was not (“unwarned”. Participants had to signal when they heard a warned tone, but ignore unwarned tones. The study team evaluated several measures of attention, including:

  • Discrimination – being able to distinguish the two types of tones
  • Reaction time – how fast they responded to a waarned tone
  • Omission – how often they failed to respond to a warned tone
  • Commission – how often they responded inappropriately

The study employed a control group of individuals without ADHD.

The researchers found that the group with ADHD had faster reaction times and greater accuracy (i.e. fewer errors of omission or commission) than the control (non-ADHD) group. The results were consistent across adults and children, male and female, as well as age level.

These results, if validated by additional studies, offer the prospect that incorporating exercise into tasks at school and work, can help improve an ADHD individual’s overall attention and cognitive performance. Also, other activities that boost dopamine (and arousal) may be shown to have the same effect – e.g., listening to music while working.

How Exercise Benefits the ADHD Brain

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