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06-13 Children with ADHD can benefit from a healthy lifestyle

Children with ADHD can benefit from a healthy lifestyle

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of 2011 attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been diagnosed in 11 percent of children aged four to 17. A developmental disorder characterized by an inability to maintain attention and focus on activities, ADHD is usually treated with a combination of therapy and medication.

Although studies have shown the medications commonly prescribed for ADHD are largely safe, they are not the only components that can diminish symptoms. Simple habits like a healthy diet and exercise have been shown to benefit many mental disorders. Unfortunately, a new study from Washington D.C.’s American University (AU) found many children with ADHD often live less healthy lifestyles than their contemporaries without the disorder.

ADHD and unhealthy lives?

The researchers from AU and Oregon Health & Science University examined lifestyle behaviors as lived by 184 children with ADHD and a control group of 104 children without ADHD. The children were aged between seven and 11. Among the results the researchers found, children with ADHD were:

  • Less likely to engage in physical activity during the week
  • More likely to consume juice with artificial sweeteners
  • Less likely to read for more than an hour a day

The findings extended to the children’s parents. Parents of children with ADHD were:

  • More likely to report their children having difficulty falling and staying asleep
  • More likely to fear their children’s sleep problems were causing behavioral problems

Even parents with children who were not taking ADHD medications reported sleep issues in their children.

“Many parents of children diagnosed with ADHD do not want their children on medication. Having their children follow healthy lifestyle behaviors may be an effective intervention either alongside or in the place of traditional ADHD medications,” said Kathleen Holton, Ph.D., AU professor and study lead author in an AU press release.

Benefits of exercise

Other studies have shown exercise can have genuine benefits for brain function, particularly in children with ADHD. A study published in the journal Pediatrics in 2013 showed improvements in mental processing in children after a 20-minute period of exercise. A study published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology showed a daily exercise period of 26 minutes over eight weeks diminished the symptoms of ADHD in grade school-age children.

In an article in ADDtude, Harvard Medical School professor John Ratey said “Think of exercise as medication. For a very small handful of people with (ADHD), it may actually be a replacement for stimulants, but, for most, it’s complimentary – something they should absolutely do, along with taking meds, to help increase attention and improve mood.”

Symptoms and causes of ADHD

Because ADHD’s symptoms often resemble ordinary adolescent behavior, diagnosing it can be difficult. According to the CDC, ADHD consists of persistent inattention and or impulsive, hyperactive behavior severe enough to interfere with everyday functioning.

As for the potential causes of ADHD, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports the exact causes are unknown. However, they have identified several potential factors which could contribute to the disorder, including:

  • Alcohol, cigarette or drug use during pregnancy
  • Exposure to other toxins like lead during pregnancy or at a young age
  • Genetics
  • Low birth weight

NIMH also reports ADHD is more common in males than females. Additionally, other conditions – substance abuse, depression and learning disabilities – are more common in children with ADHD.

Sovereign Health’s Rancho San Diego facility offers a residential program for adolescents aged 12 to 17. Rancho’s staff of compassionate experts treat their patients as individuals, ensuring that they both reach their full potential and have the best chance at a lasting, successful recovery. For more information, please call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for the Sovereign Health Group. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which’s he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at

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