Can Exercise Help ADHD Symptoms?

By Dr. Scott Kollins, Chief Medical Officer

Research Roundup

In my clinical work, lots of adult patients or parents of kids have asked, “Should I or my child do more exercise to help with ADHD symptoms?” The answer is an interesting one.

We know that exercise has many health benefits that extend far beyond ADHD. But what does the evidence tell us about how exercise specifically affects ADHD symptoms and functioning?

What the research says

A large number of studies have been conducted exploring a wide range of exercise-based interventions for patients with ADHD. In children the effects of judo, table tennis, yoga, horseback riding, trampolining, and taekwondo have all been evaluated, along with other types of more traditional aerobic exercise, like running and swimming. These studies have shown that exercise interventions do, in fact, help improve attention and other ADHD symptoms, as well as other aspects of executive functioning, like working memory and cognitive flexibility. 

Studies have also shown that the effects of exercise are stronger if implemented over a longer period of time, though not necessarily with higher frequency. In fact, interventions that involve less than three hours of exercise per week showed stronger effects than those involving more time. 

There have been far fewer studies published with adults, but the limited evidence suggests that exercise can also be beneficial to manage ADHD symptoms and related challenges.

The Take Home Message

Exercise! Most of the research supports a positive link between physical exercise of many different forms and improvements in ADHD. And even if that link were not as well supported, there are many, many other mental and physical health benefits that come with a regimen of physical activity—among them, feeling happier and less stressed.

About the Author

  • Dr. Scott Kollins is the Chief Medical Officer of Akili and is one of the nation’s leading experts in ADHD. He has published nearly 200 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals. Dr. Kollins has been ranked among the Top 100 Psychiatry faculty members in the U.S. with respect to NIH funding and also served as principal investigator on more than 50 industry-funded clinical trials. He is a licensed clinical psychologist in North Carolina.



  1. Den Heijer AE, Groen Y, Tucha L, Fuermaier AB, Koerts J, Lange KW, Thome J, Tucha O. Sweat it out? The effects of physical exercise on cognition and behavior in children and adults with ADHD: a systematic literature review. J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2017 Feb;124(Suppl 1):3-26. doi: 10.1007/s00702-016-1593-7. Epub 2016 Jul 11. PMID: 27400928; PMCID: PMC5281644.
  2. Song Y, Fan B, Wang C, Yu H. Meta-analysis of the effects of physical activity on executive function in children and adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. PLoS One. 2023 Aug 17;18(8):e0289732. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0289732. PMID: 37590250; PMCID: PMC10434964.
  3. Sun W, Yu M, Zhou X. Effects of physical exercise on attention deficit and other major symptoms in children with ADHD: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Res. 2022 May;311:114509. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2022.114509. Epub 2022 Mar 14. PMID: 35305344.