Childhood exercise as medicine: Extracurricular sport diminishes subsequent ADHD symptoms


•We use a prospective-longitudinal birth cohort of 758 girls and 733 boys.

•Sustained middle childhood sport participation seems beneficial.

•This result pertains to the subsequent behavioral development of girls by age 12.

•Greater chances of identification/treatment may explain absence of results for boys.

•Our findings are above and beyond baseline behavior and other confounding factors.


Extracurricular sport has been a valued educational investment to promote both physical and mental health in children and adolescents. Few longitudinal studies have tested whether extracurricular sport is associated with inattentive/hyperactive symptoms. Using a prospective-longitudinal birth cohort of 758 girls and 733 boys, we examined the prospective relationship between consistent middle childhood participation in extracurricular sport and subsequent ADHD symptoms. We hypothesized that engaging in extracurricular sport will promote reductions in symptoms. As a predictor, mothers reported on whether the child participated in sport or organized physical activities with a coach/instructor at ages 6, 7, 8, and 10 years. Developmental trajectories of the sport predictor, from ages 6 to 10 years, were generated using longitudinal latent class analysis. At age 12 years, sixth grade teachers reported on child ADHD symptom outcomes observed in the school setting over the last 6 months. ADHD symptoms were linearly regressed on trajectories of participation in organized sport in boys and girls, while controlling for pre-existing child and family characteristics. For girls, consistent participation in organized sport significantly predicted lower subsequent ADHD symptoms, compared with girls with low-inconsistent participation (unstandardized B = 0.07, p ≤ .05, 95% CI, 0.01–0.14). Early sustained middle childhood involvement in organized sport seems beneficial for the subsequent behavioral development of girls but no associations were found for boys. Middle childhood participation in structured venues that demand physical skill and effort with a coach or instructor may thus represent a valuable policy strategy to promote this aspect of behavioral development for girls.

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Linda S.PaganiPh.D.abcMarie-JoséeHarbecM.Sc.acGenevièveFortinM.Sc.acTracie A.Barnettbd