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Treatment for adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) usually involves a combination of medication and counseling, coaching or therapy to help manage symptoms so the person can have a successful work and personal life.

Might aerobic exercise be another useful option?

This study

The study involved 32 young men (average age, 21) with elevated symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity who participated in a two-pronged test. On one day, they did moderate-intensity cycling for 20 minutes, and on the other day they sat quietly on the cycle for 20 minutes. Before and after each session, they did an assigned mental task that required sustained attention and effort and completed mood assessments, taking about 45 minutes total.

During all sessions, physical and mental, they wore an accelerometer on both ankles that measured lower leg movement, which the researchers used as an index of hyperactivity during the mental tasks. After cycling, the men reported being more motivated to do the mental work than when they attempted it without having cycled. They also were more energized and vigorous and felt less confused, tired and depressed than when they attempted that assignment without having cycled. The improvements in mood lasted about 45 minutes. Lower-leg fidgeting during the mental tests was essentially the same whether the men had cycled or rested.

Who may be affected

Men with symptoms of ADHD. The condition usually starts and is identified in childhood, with boys nearly twice as likely as girls to be diagnosed with ADHD. Sometimes, however, symptoms are not diagnosed until adulthood. Often in adults, hyperactivity decreases but other common symptoms — acting impulsively, being restless and struggling to pay attention — continue.

Caveats

The study included only men and was small. Some of the data came from the men’s responses on questionnaires. The authors noted that adults “with elevated ADHD symptoms may require a different type or ‘dose’ of exercise than the one used in the current study to realize improvements in attention.” Fidgeting was measured only in the legs. Participants were given $50 in gas cards for their participation

Find this study

June issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26741120)

Learn more

Information on ADHD in adults can be found at adaa.org and mayoclinic.org.

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals.