Exergaming can improve executive function in children with ADHD

A new study has found evidence that playing video games that involve physical exertion (exergaming) can improve executive function in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The findings appear in the journal Scientific Reports.

“On the one hand, children with ADHD frequently have difficulties in being attentive for a long period of time. This has an impact on their daily lives regarding school performance, for example,” said study author Valentin Benzing of the Institute of Sport Science at the University of Bern.

“On the other hand, children with ADHD enjoy playing video games. They like the immediate reward, and spend a lot of time playing. Since we know from previous studies that physical exercise has a positive impact on executive functions, the idea was to combine both — video games and exercise — and to investigate whether it could have a positive impact on cognition.”

In the study, 51 children between the ages of 8 and 12 years who had been diagnosed with ADHD were randomly assigned either to an exergaming or a control group. The children in the exergaming group played a video game called “Shape Up” on Xbox One for 15 minutes. The children in the control group watched a documentary report about mountain running.

The researchers found that the children who had engaged in physical activity tended to have better scores on a Flanker Task, which measures a person’s ability to ignore irrelevant information. The children in the exergaming group were also better at switching tasks when the rules of the test were changed. However, exergaming was not associated with an improvement in visual working memory.

“The takeaway message is that physical exercise positively impacts cognition (i.e. executive function) in children with ADHD, and that exergaming (or active video gaming) bears potential to do the same,” Benzing told PsyPost. “So, for the future, it would be advantageous to exchange sedentary video games with active video games to positively impact body and mind.”

“This is the first study on exergaming in children with ADHD, so there is more research needed! For example, it would be highly interesting to compare exergaming to traditional physical exercise,” he added.

It is also unclear how long the beneficial effects of exergaming last.

“Something we are working on right now is investigating the effects of exergaming training both over a longer period of time, as well as in different populations, such as childhood cancer survivors,” Benzing said.

“I would like to add that in this international cooperation between Taiwan and Switzerland we could gain an initial insight into the potential benefits of exergaming: When thinking of the many sedentary people all around the world, we hope that exergaming could be an additional way to reach people that are not attracted by traditional sports and get them moving.”

The study, “Acute Physical Activity Enhances Executive Functions in Children with ADHD“, was authored by Valentin Benzing, Yu-Kai Chang, and Mirko Schmidt.