Children with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may benefit by adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors. Making exercise and drinking more water effectively minimizes symptoms of the disorder, according to researchers from the American University in Washington.

ADHD is a brain disorder that can trigger inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity in children, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Approximately 11 percent of children in the United States have ADHD, which is more common in males.

Children with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may benefit by adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors. Photo credit: Brooks Behavioral Health Center
Children with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may benefit by adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors. Photo credit: Brooks Behavioral Health Center

Most physicians prescribe Adderall or Ritalin to children with ADHD. Some parents may be concerned about side effects from these drugs. Others may want to try alternative methods to reduce the impact of the disorder in their children.

Researchers have compared healthy patterns followed by children with ADHD with those of children without the psychiatric disorder. Findings were published in the Journal of Attention Disorders. Researchers suggested a list of habits that should be observed.

It appears that a growing segment of parents of children with ADHD, prefer alternative options to medication, according to Kathleen Holton, lead study author and assistant professor in American University’s Department of Health Studies.

‘Children with ADHD should reduce screen time, make exercise and drink more water’

Professor Holton explained that following healthy lifestyle behaviors may be a great choice for children with ADHD, even when they are taking medications or not. Researchers analyzed data from children aged 7 to 11, according to a press release by the American University.

Holton, alongside co-author Joel Nigg of Oregon Health & Science University, compared the obtained data to recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Sleep Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Recommendations determine that children should make at least one hour of exercise every day, spend no more than 2 hours using screens, and reduce intake of sugary beverages. They should also sleep at least 9 hours, and drink more than 6 cups of water every day.

Study details and other theories: Children with ADHD are more likely to follow unhealthy patterns

Researchers created a “lifestyle index” to organize information obtained from 184 children with ADHD and 104 non-ADHD kids. Children with the disorder were more likely to drink artificially sweetened beverages and spend more than two hours using a screen.

Results also suggest that children with ADHD were less likely to engage in physical activities during the week. Parents also reported preoccupation about their children’s sleeping habits, that “may be causing them behavior issues”.

“Parents of children with ADHD should talk with their pediatrician about how to improve health behaviors, such as limiting screen time, encouraging physical activity, improving bedtime routines, and drinking water rather than other beverages,” Holton said.

Researchers Holton and Nigg analyzed parental reports, diagnostic reviews, and reports made by physicians. Previous studies had only focused on “single survey questions about past diagnoses”, they said.

The team suggested that further investigation is needed to better understand the impact of a healthy lifestyle on ADHD symptoms. Professor Holton said that healthy lifestyle behaviors may be all related among each other.

“Physical activity increases thirst, making water consumption more attractive. Physical activity can also offset screen time and can improve sleep. Similarly, removal of caffeinated beverages prevents their diuretic effect, helps increase water consumption, and helps prevent sleep disturbance,” said Holton.

Similar study: Females with childhood ADHD are more likely to develop obesity during adulthood

Researchers at Mayo Clinic have found a link between ADHD and the development of obesity in female children and adults. They suggest that females with the disorder are more prone to develop obesity during childhood and adulthood in comparison with non-ADHD females.

Dr. Seema Kumar, a pediatrician and researcher at Mayo Clinic, said that medication does not interfere in that risk. She explained that ADHD can make girls develop eating disorders. The latter can be hard to manage, given that ADHD reduces impulse control.

Sleeping patterns in children with ADHD may be also linked to obesity. It is recognized that people who sleep less have a higher risk of being overweight, said researchers in a press release published by Mayo Clinic.

Boys are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls, said the CDC. However, they do not face the same risks as girls of developing obesity, since they are often hyperactive. As a response, they might burn more calories, said researchers.

Dr. Kumar explained that having ADHD is not “a sentence for being obese”. However, health care providers and parents should take new findings into account since 17 percent of children and teenagers in the U.S. are obese, she added.

Source: American University in Washington Press Release