*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on EurekAlert.
Girls - but not boys - who participate actively in school sports activities in middle childhood show improved behavior and attentiveness in early adolescence, suggests a new Canadian study published in Preventative Medicine.
"Girls who do regular extracurricular sports between ages 6 and 10 show fewer symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at age 12, compared to girls who seldom do," said Linda Pagani, a professor at Université de Montréal's School of Psychoeducation.
"Surprisingly, however, boys do not appear to gain any behavioral benefit from sustained involvement in sports during middle childhood," said Pagani, who led the study co-authored by her students Marie-Josée Harbec and Geneviève Fortin and McGill University associate medical professor Tracie Barnett.
Parents of the 991 girls and 1,006 boys in the study reported on whether their sons and daughters were in an extracurricular physical activity that required a coach or instructor between ages 6 and 10. At age 12 years, teachers rated the children's behavior compared to their classmates. Pagani's team then analyzed the data to identify any significant link between sustained participation and later ADHD symptoms, discarding many possible confounding factors.
"We know that sporting activities have other numerous benefits for mental health of all children. However, for reducing ADHD symptoms, middle childhood sports in elementary school seem more noteworthy for girls," said Pagani.
That's why structured extracurricular activities that demand physical skill and effort under the supervision of a coach or instructor could be valuable to any official policy aimed at promoting behavioral development, the UdeM researchers maintain.
Concluded Pagani: "Sports activities in early childhood can help girls develop essential social skills that will be useful later and ultimately play a key role in their personal, financial, and economic success."