A Healthy Life is a Better Life
A study conducted last year found that if children diagnosed with ADHD develop healthy lifestyle habit, their symptoms will improve. These habits were based on guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Sleep Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They included things like limiting screen time to 1 – 2 hours/day, getting one hour of physical activity a day, a limited intake of sweets, 9 – 11 hours of sleep per night, 7 – 10 cups of water every day, etc.
Researchers that conducted this study observed 184 children with ADHD and 104 children without the disorder between the ages of 7 and 11. They found that children with ADHD, generally, had less healthy lifestyle habits than children who didn’t have the learning disability. The conclusion was that if parents teach their children healthier lifestyle habits, their ADHD symptoms will likely improve.
Kathleen Holton, the study author of this research project, said, “As research into health outcomes in children with ADHD continues to provide new insights, focusing on the overall number of healthy lifestyle behaviors may become important.”
Another study has proven that this prediction is correct.
The New Study
A recent study examined 103 children who have either been diagnosed with ADHD, autism, anxiety, or depression. The theory these researchers stated was, “Children with serious behavioral disorders might fare better at school if they get some exercise during the day…” These researchers, specifically, examined cycling as a form of physical exercise.
The study was conducted over a 14-week period, with 7 weeks on the bicycles (the intervention period) and 7 weeks off the bicycles (the controlled period). During the intervention period, children were on the bikes for 30 – 40 minutes at a time, two days out of the week. During the controlled period, children participated in a standard gym class. The bikes featured a virtual reality “exergaming” game that kept the kids engaged and focused when they were exercising.
Earlier this month, results of this study revealed that, during the intervention period, children were less likely to act out in class 31% – 51% of the time. These children also had less behavioral problems, compared to when they weren’t cycling. The researchers involved in both studies have stated that these results are very exciting.
Why Researchers Observe Exercise
According to Timothy Verduin, a clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center, “There’s been a ‘hunch,’ that exercise can benefit kids with behavioral disorders. But there has not been much solid evidence of it.” Now, however, these new studies are filling in that gap.
There are a couple of theories about why exercise helps students with disabilities. First, exercise affects neurotransmitters in the brain, which are chemical messengers that help to regulate mood and behavior. Also, because of these chemical messengers, exercise can also help to direct the brain away from worrying. These two changes in the brain may have led to the changes in the children’s behavior.
Additionally, one of the reasons why a physical activity, like cycling, improves behavior is because it’s a simple form of individualized exercise. Regularly, children with these disorders might have trouble following the rules, or directions, of interactive sports. They may also have trouble listening to instructions and may be asked to “sit out” or leave if they don’t listen (or they’re “out” when they lose). As a result, they may not get the exercise they need. With cycling, however, it’s something they do on their own and when interacting with a game, they can more easily stay focused.
While cycling won’t cure children with these disorders completely, it’s clear from the results of these two studies that exercising helps them. Researchers and psychologists are looking for other ways and other forms of exercise that will produce the same results. The results of this study have been called both, “clinically and statistically significant,” and researchers hope to find more amazing discoveries that will help these children grow into well-balanced adults.