Randomized Controlled Trial of Exercise for ADHD and Disruptive Behavior Disorders

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016 Jul;48(7):1397-407. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000891.


Purpose: The objective of this study is to test the feasibility and impact of a 10-wk after-school exercise program for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and/or disruptive behavior disorders living in an urban poor community.

Methods: Children were randomized to an exercise program (n = 19) or a comparable but sedentary attention control program (n = 16). Cognitive and behavioral outcomes were collected pre-/posttest. Intent-to-treat mixed models tested group-time and group-time-attendance interactions. Effect sizes were calculated within and between groups.

Results: Feasibility was evidenced by 86% retention, 60% attendance, and average 75% maximum HR. Group-time results were null on the primary outcome, parent-reported executive function. Among secondary outcomes, between-group effect sizes favored exercise on hyperactive symptoms (d = 0.47) and verbal working memory (d = 0.26), and controls on visuospatial working memory (d = -0.21) and oppositional defiant symptoms (d = -0.37). In each group, within-group effect sizes were moderate to large on most outcomes (d = 0.67 to 1.60). A group-time-attendance interaction emerged on visuospatial working memory (F[1,33] = 7.42, P < 0.05), such that attendance to the control program was related to greater improvements (r = 0.72, P < 0.01), whereas attendance to the exercise program was not (r = 0.25, P = 0.34).

Conclusions: Although between-group findings on the primary outcome, parent-reported executive function, were null, between-group effect sizes on hyperactivity and visuospatial working memory may reflect adaptations to the specific challenges presented by distinct formats. Both groups demonstrated substantial within-group improvements on clinically relevant outcomes. Findings underscore the importance of programmatic features, such as routines, engaging activities, behavior management strategies, and adult attention, and highlight the potential for after-school programs to benefit children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and disruptive behavior disorder living in urban poverty where health needs are high and services resources few.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / therapy*
  • Attention Deficit and Disruptive Behavior Disorders / therapy*
  • Behavior Therapy / methods*
  • Child
  • Executive Function
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term