Physical exercise and mindfulness meditation have emerged as potential behavioural approaches to address the symptoms of ADHD and supplement other treatment strategies. To analyse these effects, this study investigated the differential impact of acute exercise and mindfulness meditation on executive and psycho-emotional functioning in children and adolescents with ADHD.
Study participants (n=16; male, n=11; female, n=5) aged 10–14 years (mean age [standard deviation] 11.38 [1.50] years), with a confirmed diagnosis of ADHD* were included in the study. The study utilised a pre- post-test wherein each participant participated in all conditions in a randomised order. The study consisted of four sessions separated by 1 week. Day 1 was a familiarisation session; Day 2 was either an experimental session (10 minutes of mindfulness mediation [Smiling Minds via SmartPhone App] or moderate exercise [peddling an exercise bike]), or 10 minutes of silent reading (control); Day 3 and 4 were also either an experimental or control session depending on the randomisation schedule; and Days 2, 3 and 4 were counterbalanced across participants. Assessments of executive functioning and psycho-emotional well-being were compared before and after each intervention. Executive functioning was assessed using the Stroop Task (inhibitory control), the Leiter-3 Reverse Memory Subscale (working memory), and the Trail Making Task Part B (TMT-B; task switching/cognitive flexibility); psycho-emotional assessments were made using a modified version of the Profile of Mood States (mood) and the General Self-Efficacy scale (self-efficacy).
Impact of acute exercise and mindful meditation on executive functioning
Mindfulness meditation led to a significant improvement in all executive functioning tasks assessed: inhibitory control (d=0.86, p=0.01), working memory (d=0.55, p=0.01) and task switching (d=0.56, p=0.04). The exercise and reading (control) interventions did not lead to any changes in executive functioning.
Impact of acute exercise and mindful meditation on psycho-emotional well-being
Exercise led to a significant improvement in positive mood (d=0.35, p=0.02) and general self-efficacy (d=0.22, p=0.04). No changes were observed in negative mood. The mindfulness meditation and reading (control) interventions did not lead to any changes in psycho-emotional measures.
Limitations associated with the study were the lack of an age-matched, neurotypical control group, and inclusion of only those individuals with a formal ADHD diagnosis. There were also no measures of trait mindfulness (which often differs from state mindfulness) or mindfulness manipulation (to assess engagement). In addition, some participants were on medication. Although medication was stopped 24 hours prior to testing days, it is possible that these participants may have differed from non-medicated participants in terms of performance.
According to the authors the results support the efficacy of mindfulness meditation – specifically acute (single) sessions – in helping with executive functional deficits in children and adolescents with ADHD. They also highlighted that acute exercise may have psycho-emotional benefits for this population. Overall, the authors suggested that the findings may help to inform future personalised behavioural strategies for children with ADHD, addressing different domains of executive and psycho-emotional functioning.
*Confirmed both verbally and via a questionnaire by the child’s guardian using the Vanderbilt Parent Rating Scale and the Behavioural Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning; in addition, participants were excluded if they did not speak English, were not fully literate, had neurological/developmental conditions beyond ADHD or were colour-blind.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the views of the author(s) and not those of Takeda.
Bigelow H, Gottlieb MD, Ogrodnik M, et al. The differential impact of acute exercise and mindfulness meditation on executive functioning and psycho-emotional well-being in children and youth with ADHD. Front Psychol 2021; 12: 660845.