What is the research about?

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder present in about 1 in 20 children that causes difficulties at home, school, and in peer relations. Current treatments include medications, which can be associated with side effects, and behavioural therapies that are labour intensive. There is a need for treatments that are safe, easy to use, and effective. This study compared the effects of physical activity versus a seated art-based activity.


What did the researchers do?

A total of 202 children, aged 4 to 8 years, attending schools in two small U.S. cities, and their parents, participated in the study.  Based on rating scales completed by their parents and teachers, they were identified as either typically developing, or at risk for developing ADHD.  They were then randomly assigned to half an hour of physical activity or a seated, classroom-based art activity before school, every school day for 12 weeks. Researchers collected parent and teacher ratings of the children’s ADHD-associated behaviours including inattention, hyperactivity/impulsivity, and on their oppositional behaviour, moodiness, and difficulties in peer interactions.

What did the researchers find?

It was not clear whether the physical activity or art-based intervention was more effective in improving the ADHD-associated behaviours. Teachers and parents generally agreed that both interventions improved behaviour for both typically developing and ADHD-risk children. The specific behaviours that were affected, however, differed according to who was reporting the results. It may be that parents notice different behaviours at home than teachers do at school. Parents indicated that physical activity was more effective than the art-based activity in improving inattention as well as moodiness.

Take home message

The study results suggest that physical activity may be an effective and easy way of improving ADHD-associated behaviours at home and at school.  However, since there were differences between parent and teacher reports on the same behaviours, it is not clear that this program was superior to an art-based activity.  Parents of typically developing children also reported improvement in their behaviour, although their teachers did not. Further research, including the use of a no-treatment group in whom to compare the effects of physical activity, is needed to test the intervention’s true effectiveness.  Other non-medication, school-based treatment options, in addition to the ones examined in this study, could be explored, as well.


The original Research Report was written by B. Hoza and associates and was published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. 2014.