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Overcoming Barriers to Physical Activity for Children with ADHD

Edited by: Jasleen Sekhon

Physical inactivity is a problem facing many children in today’s day and age. In Canada, only 37.6% of children and youth aged 5-17 are meeting their daily recommendation of physical activity of at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity per day (1). Children and youth who are physically inactive are at an increased risk of developing chronic diseases, such as, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other cardiovascular diseases (1).

Attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that usually occurs in childhood and is “characterized by developmentally inappropriate levels of attention, hyperactivity and impulsivity”. (4) There is a positive impact of physical activity on children with ADHD. A meta- analysis conducted by Zang, suggests that physical activity improved anxiety, depression, thought and social porblems in children with ADHD were improved with physical activity. The study also suggests that physical activity should be encouraged in children with ADHD as it can aid in improving their scademic skills and adaptability to new environments (4). Some examples of the best exercises for children with ADHD include going with a bike ride with family, playing sports (i.e., soccer, basketball, tennis) and jumping rope of playing hopscotch (3).

Although there are many benefits to children with ADHD participating in physical activity, there are also many barriers which can hinder their participation. As children with ADHD can delays in motor development, this can hinder their motivational output when participating in physical activity (2). These barriers may lead to increased drop out rates and lack of participation (2).

What can we do to overcome these barriers?

Barriers to physical activity for children with ADHD can be overcome in many ways. For example, in the classroom setting, moderate- vigorous physical activity can be incorporated during the being of class to increase the child’s participation (2). In addition, there are many motivational factors, such as implementing reinforcements and using a diary (i.e., electronic) fo log physical activity levels which can be used to improve physical activity levels in children with ADHD.

In conclusion, the battle to decrease physical inactivity levels of children and youth in Canada (and around the world), is increasingly important to prevent chronic disease states. It is even more important to ensure that we as a society are including different groups, such as children with intellectual disabilities to ensure that we are able to improve the health and quality of life for all.

To read more about an individual’s (Daniel Preiato, RD from Healthline) personal experience with ADHD and exercise, please check out:


  • Children and youth need a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day

  • Only 37.6% of children and youth aged 5-17 are meeting their daily recommendation of physical activity

  • Children with ADHD face many barriers to participating and to staying motivated to continue participating in physical activity

  • There are many ways to overcome these barriers to physical activity which include using verbal reinforcements to motivate the child and using a diary to log physical activity

  • With physical inactivity rates in children and youth increasing at a faster rate than ever, it is even more crucial to overcome barriers to increase physical activity and to improve the livelihood of children and youth, including those with ADHD


  1. Canada, P. H. A. of. (2016, January 22). Government of Canada. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from

  2. Giesige, J. (2018). Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) In A Physical Education/ Physical Activity Environment: Meta Analysis. ms, Arcata.

  3. Preiato, D. (2021, October 19). ADHD and exercise: What you need to know. Healthline. Retrieved May 3, 2022, from

  4. Zang Y. (2019). Impact of physical exercise on children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorders: Evidence through a meta-analysis. Medicine, 98(46), e17980.

  5. Image of child with laptop retrieved on May 3rd from:

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