Can physical activity improve cognition in children with ADHD and Reading Difficulties? Findings from a preliminary intervention

Josephine Booth, James Boyle, Iain A. Mitchell, Phillip D. Tomporowski, Bryan A. McCullick, John J. Reilly

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Objective: Physical activity is beneficial for many psychological factors. Recent longitudinal studies have shown positive relationships among physical activity, academic attainment, executive functions, and behavior in typically developing (TD) young people. Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity-Disorder (ADHD) and readingdifficulties (RD) are commonly reported in children, with high rates of co-occurrence. Both of these difficulties are associated with deficits in a range of factors, especially executive functions. Emerging research suggests that programmes of physical activity can lead to positive improvements, however a paucity of interventions have been reported for children with such difficulties. The present study explores whether a pilot physical activity programme improves cognition and behaviour in children with ADHD, RD, and co-occurring ADHD-and-RD. Method: 68 children, aged 9-12, took part in the present study: 15 with ADHD; 15 with RD; 15 with co-occurring ADHD + RD; and 23 TD. Participants completed tasks assessing: IQ; reading; working memory; inhibition; shifting and planning. Levels of physical activity were recorded using accelerometers. Parents and teachers also completed behavioural questionnaires. Half of the participants took part in a 12 week physical activity programme. Following this, all participants completed the same measures as at baseline. A delayed control design was employed whereby the control group then took part in the intervention before completing the assessments again. Results: Levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) were similar for all groups at baseline with the ADHD group averaging 62 mins/day, the RD group 61 mins/day, the co-occurring group 66 mins/day and the TD group 64 mins/day. Baseline task performance was controlled for using Analysis of Covariance. Taking part in the intervention led to improvements in working memory scores for those with ADHD and co-occurring difficulties (p<0.05, pη2=0.33). A trend for improvement was also seen for the RD and TD group compared to those who did not take part in the intervention. Conclusions: A physical activity programme resulted in selective score improvements for those with ADHD and co-occurring difficulties. Further analysis is planned following the completion of the intervention by the control group in December 2014. These findings have implications for treatment for ADHD and cooccurring difficulties.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2015
EventInternational Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity Annual Meeting 2015 - Edinburgh International Conference Centre, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 3 Jun 20156 Jun 2015


ConferenceInternational Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity Annual Meeting 2015
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • physical activity
  • cognition
  • children
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • reading difficulties
  • intervention

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