Akron occupational therapists

Akron Occupational Therapists Explain How Exercise Boosts Kids’ Concentration

Attention is a necessary component for children’s development and academic success. But helping kids maintain attention and focus has undoubtedly gotten tougher in recent years. We’re confronted with increased screen time, compelling animations and other constant distractions. It’s especially tough when the child has an additional challenge such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism and the task is something non-preferred. As our Akron occupational therapists can explain, one of the best ways to improve attention for an important task or just throughout the day is exercise!

Research over the last 30 years has boosted our understanding of the benefits of exercise, confirming that it:

  • Boosts biological chemicals essential for brain cell growth.
  • Stimulates the birth of new neurons.
  • Mobilizes genes believed to enhance brain plasticity (the brain’s ability to alter neural pathways).

Kids who have been challenged with cognitively demanding tasks tend to perform faster and with more accuracy when they’re more physically active. This is true for typically-developing children, but it’s especially true for kids with conditions like ADHD. One recent study that found regular physical activity reduced the severity of ADHD symptoms and boosted cognitive functioning in kids has many discussing the possibility of making exercise part of the standard treatment for ADHD. In that analysis, children between kindergarten and second grade with ADHD (hyperactive and inattentive) had measurable positive gains in focus and mood when they engaged in as little as a half our daily of moderate to vigorous exercise.

That’s not to say it’s a miracle cure, but if it can help kids feel and function better, then it’s worth giving it a shot – especially because being active is key for kids’ development regardless of whether it improves attention.

Movement for Focus

Some ideas parents, teachers and therapists can incorporate in structuring our day-to-day activities for kids who struggle with attention include engaging in cognitively-demanding coordination exercises 60-90 minutes before beginning that lesson, homework or activity.

It’s important to point out that not all activities are created equal. Depending on your child’s symptoms and other comorbidities, some activities may make more sense than others. Some ideas:

  • Swimming. Many kids who struggle with attention can thrive with guidance and structure, and being on a swim team can make that possible. They get the social benefits of being on a team, while also getting a lot of one-on-one counsel from the coach.
  • Martial arts. Martial arts emphasize learning self-control, discipline and respect. There are step-by-step instructions (so there is little opportunity for distraction) and a lot of one-on-one coaching. It’s also heavy on routine (bowing to the instructor, etc.) which can make it easier for some kids to catch on.
  • Gymnastics. A lot of activities in gymnastics require close attention to body movements, which can help kids who struggle with inattention. Plus, a lot of the equipment used in gymnastics is similar to what we use as Akron occupational therapists.
  • Soccer. Soccer is great for building social skills. If you think your child might struggle a bit to keep up with their peers, consider putting them in a group one or two age levels down. There is a lot of running and constant action, which can be great for kids whose attention spans are short.
  • Track and cross country. There are a lot of sports where teammates spend a lot of time on the bench, waiting for their turn to play. With track and cross country, there is very little downtime. Kids get to be on a team, but they aren’t directly competing against anyone but themselves.

If sports aren’t a good fit or a real option right now, consider turning to the outdoors. Being out in nature has an immense positive impact for kids of all ages and abilities. If you can combine that with physical activity (walking, jogging, biking, etc.), the more likely it is you’ll be able to help stretch their attention spans. Northeast Ohio has a great many parks, bike paths, and other outdoor offerings. Maximize it by turning it into family fun time!

If you need more ideas for how to help your kids stay engaged and focused, our Akron occupational therapists are happy to help!

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides occupational therapy to children in Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Akron and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, homeschooling, alternative schooling, virtual therapy and education, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email.

Additional Resources:

Emerging Support for a Role of Exercise in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Intervention Planning, Oct. 2012, Current Psychiatry Reports

More Blog Entries:

Sensory Meltdown v. Tantrum: What’s the Difference? Akron OT Explains, Jan. 20, 2021, Akron Occupational Therapists Blog