Acute Exercise Improves Mood and Motivation in Young Men with ADHD Symptoms

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016 Jun;48(6):1153-60. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000864.


Purpose: Little is known about whether acute exercise affects signs or symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults. This experiment sought to determine the effects of a single bout of moderate-intensity leg cycling exercise on measures of attention, hyperactivity, mood, and motivation to complete mental work in adult men reporting elevated ADHD symptoms.

Methods: A repeated-measures crossover experiment was conducted with 32 adult men (18-33 yr) with symptoms consistent with adult ADHD assessed by the Adult Self-Report Scale V1.1. Measures of attention (continuous performance task and Bakan vigilance task), motivation to perform the mental work (visual analog scale), lower leg physical activity (accelerometry), and mood (Profile of Mood States and Addiction Research Center Inventory amphetamine scale) were measured before and twice after a 20-min seated rest control or exercise condition involving cycling at 65% V˙O2peak. Condition (exercise vs rest) × time (baseline, post 1, and post 2) ANOVA was used to test the hypothesized exercise-induced improvements in all outcomes.

Results: Statistically significant condition-time interactions were observed for vigor (P < 0.001), amphetamine (P < 0.001), motivation (P = 0.027), and Profile of Mood States depression (P = 0.027), fatigue (P = 0.030), and confusion (P = 0.046) scales. No significant interaction effects were observed for leg hyperactivity, simple reaction time, or vigilance task performance (accuracy, errors, or reaction time).

Conclusion: In young men reporting elevated symptoms of ADHD, a 20-min bout of moderate-intensity cycle exercise transiently enhances motivation for cognitive tasks, increases feelings of energy, and reduces feelings of confusion, fatigue, and depression, but this has no effect on the behavioral measures of attention or hyperactivity used.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect*
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / psychology*
  • Cognition
  • Confusion / psychology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Fatigue / psychology
  • Humans
  • Leg / physiology
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Movement
  • Young Adult