As you may recall from our earlier article citing the benefits of exercise on ADHD, maintaining active lifestyle for a child with ADHD can be very helpful in managing symptoms. These benefits have been further expanded based on a new study by Silia Martikinen of the University of Helsinki, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
As most of us who deal with ADHD on a daily basis know, we have to deal with more than our fair share of stress as a result of coping with our symptoms, but the research shows that exercise actually is a key factor in helping to cope with that stress. Specifically, the study showed that children who exercise regularly and maintained an active lifestyle produced less cortisol than sedentary children, a hormone that is tied to stress.
While many people who already actively engage in regular exercise already tout this as one of the many benefits, this is the first study in children to confirm that exercise is directly linked to stress hormone production.
Over 250 children, all eight years of age, took part in the study. Their activity levels were monitored using simple accelerometer devices and they were required to complete two tasks, one mathematical, and the other one story-telling. The scientists measured their cortisol levels via saliva samples before and after the tasks to see if any difference could be found.
Given the measured activity, the study’s authors were able to categorize the children into three distinct groups, namely active, intermediate, or sedentary. Of these three groups, the active group who engaged in more physical activity for longer showed a much lower cortisol or stress response to the tasks they were required to complete. As would be expected, the cortisol levels were increased for the intermediate group and were the highest for the sedentary group.
This prompted the following comment from the lead author, Martikainen:
Clearly, there is a link between mental and physical well-being, but the nature of the connection is not well understood. These results suggest exercise promotes mental health by regulating the stress hormone response to stressors.
As such, it is important to know that in addition to abating ADHD symptoms, exercise also combats the stress these symptoms can inflict on a person who suffers from ADHD. So to keep stress levels low, stop watching TV that causes attention problems and keep children active! Just keep in mind that the exercise children engage in should be age appropriate and most importantly, fun.
“Higher Levels of Physical Activity Are Associated With Lower Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenocortical Axis Reactivity to Psychosocial Stress in Children”
Silja Martikainen, Anu-Katriina Pesonen, Jari Lahti, Kati Heinonen, Kimmo Feldt, Riikka Pyhälä, Tuija Tammelin, Eero Kajantie, Johan G. Eriksson, Timo E. Strandberg and Katri Räikkönen
Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism