Just 10 minutes of exercise or mindful meditation could help students with attention issues get back on track during their studies, Western University researchers say.
“Giving children more opportunities holistically, especially those that struggle with attention, for mindfulness activities and exercise will make a huge difference,” said Western education professor Barbara Fenesi, co-author of a new study with doctorate students Hannah Bigelow and Marcus Gottlieb.
The new study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, which included contributors from McMaster University and Ontario Tech University, offers alternatives to pharmaceuticals to help kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) learn.
Fenesi said the study findings will enable parents and teachers to target the specific needs of a child.
“What is really awesome about this research is that you just need 10 minutes,” she said. “It happens pretty acutely and immediately. You might have to do it multiple times because the effects might dissipate, but that’s OK.”
ADHD is a disorder where a person exhibits both higher-than-average levels of hyperactivity and the inability to focus on one thing for long periods of time.
“ADHD is one of the most common developmental disorders our kids are faced with,” Fenesi said. “It has a really high likelihood of impacting how (students) learn in school because there is such a high demand of having to sit still for long periods of time.”
The team’s investigation examined whether exercise and mindful meditation using an app made any difference in activating a student’s ability to pay attention.
“We wanted to identify tools that can be used that are non-pharmaceutical; can be used in a short amount of time; that are non-invasive and that kids can have fun with — that they can do anywhere, whether at school or at home, if they need a boost for cognitive or emotional capacity,” Fenesi said.
The Western research team recruited 16 children aged 10 to 14 from two clinics in the London community for the once-a-week, four-week research project.
In the lab first they measured the youths’ ability to pay attention, their working memory and their ability to inhibit distractions. Then the students were evaluated after moderate exercise on a stationary bike and, the next week, after mindful meditation through the Smiling Mind app.
Those results were compared to the measurements taken when the youths were just reading, Fenesi said.
“We analyzed the data and found some interesting results that when kids participated in some physical activity they had a significant boost in their mood compared to silent reading or mindfulness meditation group,” she said.
But the researchers were surprised to learn that exercise didn’t improve cognitive functioning, she said.
“We thought it would distinctly help those children, however, the mindfulness meditation is what helped that cognitive functioning,” she said. “It helped them pay better attention, inhibit distractions and also helped their working memory, which is a key component in learning success.”
The results are important, Fenesi said, because they could lead to “different strategies depending on what our children are struggling with.”
Research is underway asking children for input of what they think are the best interventions for them, she added.