Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Master of Arts




Fenesi, Barbara


Short bouts of exercise can improve inhibitory control in children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However, individual differences among children with ADHD may impact the effectiveness of exercise interventions. We investigated how individual differences in inhibitory control, mood, and self-efficacy impact the efficacy of acute exercise among children with ADHD. Sixteen participants (ages 10-14) completed two interventions: 10 minutes of exercise and 10 minutes of silent reading (control). Inhibitory control was assessed prior to the intervention, immediately after the intervention, and after a 10-minute delay. Results suggested that participants with lower initial inhibitory control benefited more from exercise than participants with higher initial inhibitory control. Exercise reduced any initial benefit of a more positive mood state on inhibitory control, whereas self-efficacy had no effect on inhibitory control. This study demonstrates that individual differences in executive functioning and psycho-emotional well-being can alter the impact of exercise on children with ADHD.

Summary for Lay Audience

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in children. Children with ADHD have difficulty focusing and regulating their emotions and behaviours. ADHD is typically treated with medication. Though this is often effective, it is also associated with negative side effects. Prior research shows that an additional way to support children with ADHD is through exercise. Short bouts of exercise can lead to improvements in inhibitory control––a cognitive ability involving the control of impulsive responses––which is a key area of difficulty for children with ADHD. However, even if exercise is generally beneficial, not all children with ADHD are likely to be impacted the same way.

This thesis explored several individual differences that could impact how children with ADHD respond to exercise. Specifically, we considered ­inhibitory control, mood, and self-efficacy (feelings of confidence in one’s abilities). Sixteen children with ADHD participated in the study. Each participant’s mood, self-efficacy, and inhibitory control were measured at the beginning of the study. Then, they rode a stationary bike for 10 minutes. Inhibitory control was measured again right after biking and after a 10-minute delay. On a separate day, the same participants completed the same protocol, except instead of exercise, they read silently for 10 minutes.

We found that participants who began the study session with lower levels of inhibitory control improved more on their inhibitory control after exercise than participants who began the study session with higher levels of inhibitory control. When participants read silently instead, neither group improved. Also, participants who were in a more positive mood had better inhibitory control initially, but after exercise mood did not impact their performance. This suggests that exercise may be mitigating the effect of mood on inhibitory control. Finally, self-efficacy had no impact on how children with ADHD responded to exercise. These results show that exercise affects some children with ADHD differently than others, and that by identifying certain individual difference factors we can hopefully offer greater access to exercise interventions for children who need it the most.