June 4, 2024

Understanding the Role of Disinhibition in ADHD and the Impact of Physical Activity

ADHD often includes a problem called disinhibition. This means that the brain struggles to control attention, thoughts, emotions, and behavior, which can lead to negative outcomes. Normally, inhibition helps people stay focused and avoid distractions, but when it fails, it's called disinhibition.

Children with ADHD who have problems with inhibition may face issues like substance abuse, self-harm, and antisocial behavior. Improving their inhibition can help them better manage themselves, do well in school, and have better relationships.

A team of researchers from China and South Korea explored whether physical activity could improve inhibition in children with ADHD. They reviewed studies and excluded those without control groups, those with poor quality assessments, and those involving other interventions like cognitive training or supplements. Their final analysis included 11 studies with 713 participants.

Key Findings on Physical Activity

  1. Frequency and Duration: Physical activity had to be done at least twice a week to show significant improvement in inhibition. Sessions needed to last between 45 minutes to an hour for noticeable benefits, with sessions over an hour showing even greater improvements.
  2. Consistency: Regular, long-term physical activity was more effective than single sessions.
  3. Intensity: Moderate-to-vigorous activities were better than moderate activities alone.
  4. Type of Activity:some text
    • Open-skilled sports (like ping-pong or taekwondo) which involve reacting to changing environments, showed the most significant improvements.
    • Closed-skill sports (like running or swimming) showed smaller improvements.
    • Exergaming (exercise using video games) had moderate benefits.
  5. Specific Improvements:some text
    • Improvements in response inhibition (the ability to control impulsive responses) were small to medium.
    • Improvements in interference suppression (preventing distractions from affecting working memory) were large.


The research concluded that physical activity can significantly improve the inhibition in children with ADHD, especially with regular, moderate-to-vigorous, open-skilled exercise done at least twice a week for an hour or more. Future studies should continue to explore this with high-quality methods to confirm these findings.

Meng Wang, Xinyue Yang, Jing Yu, Jian Zhu, Hyun-Duck Kim, and Angelita Cruz, “Effects of Physical Activity on Inhibitory Function in Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (2023) 20, 1032, https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph20021032.

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Immediate and Long-term Effects of Exercise on ADHD Symptoms and Cognition

Immediate and Longer-term Effects of Exercise on ADHD Symptoms and Cognition

A team of Spanish researchers has published a systematic review of 16 studies with a total of 728 participants exploring the effects of physical exercise on children and adolescents with ADHD. Fourteen studies were judged to be of high quality, and two of medium quality.

Seven studies looked at the acute effects of exercise on eight to twelve-year-old youths with ADHD. Acute means that the effects were measured immediately after periods of exercise lasting up to 30 minutes. Five studies used treadmills and two used stationary bicycles, for periods of five to 30 minutes. Three studies "showed a significant increase in the speed of reaction and precision of response after an intervention of 20-30 min, but at moderate intensity (50-75%)." Another study, however, found no improvement in mathematical problem-solving after 25 minutes using a stationary bicycle at low (40-50%) or moderate intensity (65-75%). The three others found improvements in executive functioning, planning, and organization in children after 20- to 30-minute exercise sessions.

Nine studies examined longer-term effects, following regular exercise over many weeks. One reported that twenty consecutive weekly yoga sessions improved attention. Another found that moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) led to improved behavior beginning in the third week, and improved motor, emotional and attentional control, by the end of five weeks. A third study reported that eight weeks of starting the school day with 30 minutes of physical activity led to improvement in Connor's ADHD scores, oppositional scores, and response inhibition. Another study found that twelve weeks of aerobic activity led to declines in bad mood and inattention. Yet another reported that thrice-weekly 45-minute sessions of MVPA over ten weeks improved not only muscle strength and motor skills, but also attention, response inhibition, and information processing.

Two seventy-minute table tennis per week over twelve weeks improved executive functioning and planning, in addition to locomotor and object control skills.

Two studies found a significant increase in brain activity. One involved two hour-long sessions of rowing per week for eight weeks, the other three 90-minute land-based sessions per week for six weeks. Both studies measured higher activation of the right frontal and right temporal lobes in children, and lower theta/alpha ratios in male adolescents.

All 16 studies found positive effects on cognition. Five of the nine longer-term studies found positive effects on behavior. No study found any negative effects. The authors of the review concluded that physical activity "improves executive functions, increases attention, contributes to greater planning capacity and processing speed and working memory, improves the behavior of students with ADHD in the learning context, and consequently improves academic performance." Although the data are limited by a lack of appropriate controls, they suggest that, in addition to the well-known positive effects of physical activity, one may expect to see improvements in ADHD symptoms and associated features, especially for periods of sustained exercise.

July 18, 2021

How Effective Is Exercise in Treating ADHD?

New meta-analysis explores effectiveness of physical exercise as treatment for ADHD

Noting that "Growing evidence shows that moderate physical activity (PA) can improve psychological health through enhancement of neurotransmitter systems," and "PA may play a physiological role similar to stimulant medications by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters, thereby alleviating the symptoms of ADHD," a Chinese team of researchers performed a comprehensive search of the peer-reviewed journal literature for studies exploring the effects of physical activity on ADHD symptoms.

They found nine before-after studies with a total of 232 participants, and fourteen two-group control studies with a total of 303 participants, that met the criteria for meta-analysis.

The meta-analysis of before-after studies found moderate reductions in inattention and moderate-to-strong reductions in hyperactivity/impulsivity. It also reported moderate reductions in emotional problems and small-to-moderate reductions in behavioral problems.

The effect was even stronger among unmediated participants. There was a very strong reduction in inattention and a strong reduction in hyperactivity/impulsivity.

The meta-analysis of two-group control studies found strong reductions in inattention, but no effect on hyperactivity/impulsivity. It also found no significant effect on emotional and behavioral problems.

There was no sign of publication bias in any of the meta-analyses.

The authors concluded, "Our results suggest that PA intervention could improve ADHD-related symptoms, especially inattention symptoms. However, due to a lot of confounders, such as age, gender, ADHD subtypes, the lack of rigorous double-blinded randomized-control studies, and the inconsistency of the PA program, our results still need to be interpreted with caution."

February 21, 2022

Meta-analysis suggests regular exercise improves core symptoms and executive functions in child and adolescent ADHD

Meta-analysis Suggests Regular Exercise Improves Core Symptoms and Executive Functions in Child and Adolescent ADHD

A Chinese study team has performed an updated meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials (RCTs) published through July 2022, looking specifically at the effects of chronic exercise on ADHD core symptoms and executive functions in children and adolescents.

The researchers defined chronic to mean exercise interventions lasting at least six weeks, with the longest clocking in at well over a year (72 weeks). 

They only included RCTs with blinding of all assessors who measured the primary outcomes, to guard against any conscious or unconscious bias.

A total of 22 studies met criteria for inclusion in the series of meta-analyses they performed. The RCTs were widely distributed, with four from North America, three from Africa, three from Europe, eleven from Asia, and one from Oceania.

Three studies were rated as being at low risk of bias, the other 19 at moderate risk of bias.

Meta-analysis of eleven RCTs with a combined 514 participants reported a small-to-medium reduction in ADHD core symptoms. Between-study variation (heterogeneity) was moderate, and there was no indication of publication bias.

Breaking that down by age group, for children (eight RCTs, 357 children) the reduction in core symptoms was likewise small-to-medium, versus a medium effect size reduction among adolescents (three RCTs, 157 adolescents), with no heterogeneity.

When the control group received no treatment or was sedentary (8 RCTs, 422 participants), the effect size remained small-to-medium, whereas when the control group received education, it became large (two RCTs, 58 participants). 

Improvements in executive functions were even more pronounced. Meta-analysis of 17 RCTs with a combined 795 participants yielded a medium-to-large effect size reduction in executive functions overall. Heterogeneity was moderate, with absolutely no sign of publication bias.

More specifically, there was a medium effect size improvement in working memory (10 RCTs, 290 participants), a medium-to-large effect size improvement in cognitive flexibility (8 RCTs, 206 participants), and a large effect size improvement in inhibition (12 RCTs, 299 participants). 

Once again, adolescents benefited more than children. Whereas children showed medium effect size improvements in executive function (14 RCTs, 659 children), adolescents registered enormous improvements (3 RCTs, 136 adolescents).

One note of caution, though. Among RCTs rated low risk of bias, effect size improvements in both ADHD core symptoms (3 RCTs, 180 participants) and executive functions (2 RCTs, 86 participants) were small and did not reach statistical significance. That suggests a need for more and better RCTs to reach a more settled verdict.

For now, the authors concluded, “This meta-analysis suggests that CEIs [chronic exercise interventions] have small-to-moderate effects on overall core symptoms and executive functions in children and adolescents with ADHD.”

February 12, 2024

News Tuesday: Fidgeting and ADHD

A recent study delved into the connection between fidgeting and cognitive performance in adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Recognizing that hyperactivity often manifests as fidgeting, the researchers sought to understand its role in attention and performance during cognitively demanding tasks. They designed a framework to quantify meaningful fidgeting variables using actigraphy devices.

(Note: Actigraphy is a non-invasive method of monitoring human rest/activity cycles. It involves the use of a small, wearable device called an actigraph or actimetry sensor, typically worn on the wrist, similar to a watch. The actigraph records movement data over extended periods, often days to weeks, to track sleep patterns, activity levels, and circadian rhythms. In this study, actigraphy devices were used to measure fidgeting by recording the participants' movements continuously during the cognitive task. This data provided objective, quantitative measures of fidgeting, allowing the researchers to analyze its relationship with attention and task performance.)

The study involved 70 adult participants aged 18-50, all diagnosed with ADHD. Participants underwent a thorough screening process, including clinical interviews and ADHD symptom ratings. The analysis revealed that fidgeting increased during correct trials, particularly in participants with consistent reaction times, suggesting that fidgeting helps sustain attention. Interestingly, fidgeting patterns varied between early and later trials, further highlighting its role in maintaining focus over time.

Additionally, a correlation analysis validated the relevance of the newly defined fidget variables with ADHD symptom severity. This finding suggests that fidgeting may act as a compensatory mechanism for individuals with ADHD, aiding in their ability to maintain attention during tasks requiring cognitive control.

This study provides valuable insights into the role of fidgeting in adults with ADHD, suggesting that it may help sustain attention during challenging cognitive tasks. By introducing and validating new fidget variables, the researchers hope to standardize future quantitative research in this area. Understanding the compensatory role of fidgeting can lead to better management strategies for ADHD, emphasizing the potential benefits of movement for maintaining focus.

July 16, 2024

Identifying Autistic-Like Symptoms in Children with ADHD

NEWS TUESDAY: Identifying Autistic-Like Symptoms in Children with ADHD

A recent study investigated the presence of autistic-like symptoms in children diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Given the overlapping social difficulties in both ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), distinguishing between the two disorders can be challenging. This study aims to pinpoint specific patterns of autistic symptoms in children with ADHD, comparing them to those with ASD using the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule, 2nd edition (ADOS-2).

The research involved 43 school-age children divided into two groups:

  • ADHD Group (25 children): Initially referred for ASD symptoms but later diagnosed with ADHD.
  • ASD Group (18 children): Children diagnosed with ASD.

Researchers used ADOS-2 to evaluate differences in communication deficits, social interaction challenges, and repetitive behaviors between the two groups. The study also compared IQ, age, ADOS-2 domain scores, and externalizing/internalizing problems.

Key Findings:

  • Significant differences were found between the ADHD and ASD groups in ADOS-2 domain scores, including Social Affect, Restricted and Repetitive Behavior, and Total Score.
  • On an individual item level, children with ADHD displayed similar atypical behaviors as those with ASD in social-communication areas such as "Pointing" and "Gestures".
  • Both groups showed comparable frequencies in behaviors like "Stereotyped/idiosyncratic words or phrases", "Mannerisms", and "Repetitive interests and behaviors".

The study highlights the importance of identifying transdiagnostic domains that overlap between ADHD and ASD. The transdiagnostic domain refers to a set of symptoms or behaviors that are common across multiple diagnostic categories rather than being specific to just one. Identifying these domains in mental health practice and in psychological research is crucial to understanding, properly diagnosing, and treating conditions with overlapping features. This understanding could pave the way for tailored treatments addressing the specific needs of children with ADHD, particularly those exhibiting autistic-like symptoms.

July 9, 2024

Non-stimulant Medications for Adults with ADHD: An Overview

NEW STUDY: Non-stimulant Medications for Adults with ADHD: An Overview

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in adults is commonly treated with stimulant medications such as methylphenidate and amphetamines. However, not all patients respond well to these stimulants or tolerate them effectively. For such cases, non-stimulant medications provide an alternative treatment approach.

Recent research by Brancati et al. reviews the efficacy and safety of non-stimulant medications for adult ADHD. Atomoxetine, a well-studied non-stimulant, has shown significant effectiveness in treating ADHD symptoms in adults. The review highlights the importance of considering dosage, treatment duration, safety, and the presence of psychiatric comorbidities when prescribing atomoxetine.

Additionally, certain antidepressants, including tricyclic compounds, bupropion, and viloxazine, which possess noradrenergic or dopaminergic properties, have demonstrated efficacy in managing adult ADHD. Antihypertensive medications, especially guanfacine, have also been found effective. Other medications like memantine, metadoxine, and mood stabilizers show promise, whereas treatments like galantamine, antipsychotics, and cannabinoids have not yielded positive results.

The expert opinion section of the review emphasizes that while clinical guidelines primarily recommend atomoxetine as a second-line treatment, several other non-stimulant options can be utilized to tailor treatments based on individual patient needs and comorbid conditions. Despite these advancements, the authors call for further research to develop and refine more personalized treatment strategies for adults with ADHD.

This review underscores the growing landscape of non-stimulant treatment options, offering hope for more personalized and effective management of ADHD in adults.

June 25, 2024