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Can Cycling and Exercise Create a Better Future for Children with ADHD?

Stanford research, with support from the Specialized Foundation, aims to better understand effects of exercise on brain function and cognition in children with ADHD 

Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), estimated to affect from 5 to 10 percent of all children in the United States, is so prevalent that nearly every classroom includes at least one affected child. 

Mike Sinyard has struggled with ADHD since childhood, and discovered that his mood—and his ability to concentrate—were improved after he spent time cycling. Through cycling, Sinyard was able to focus his passion and energy, eventually founding and leading Specialized Bicycle Components. 

“As a company of passionate riders, we intuitively recognize the benefits of exercise and cycling on our own abilities to focus and wanted to learn more about using cycling and exercise as a potential new symptom management tool for children and their families to consider,” he explained. 

In 2015, Sinyard launched the Specialized Foundation, dedicated to funding original research and cycling programs to improve the lives of children. He connected with Allan Reiss, MD, a Stanford researcher whose work focuses on brain development and disorders that affect children. Reiss has used neural imaging to identify how genetics, environment, the brain, and behavior all interact in children, and how to develop interventions to help them live to their fullest potential.  

“Right now there is a gap in the scientific community around ADHD,” said Reiss, director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Brain Sciences Research and the Howard C. Robbins Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. “Physicians and families have observed the benefits that physical activities can have for some children with ADHD, but the formal research to quantify and explain those benefits are lacking. Our hope is to one day understand how each individual is affected by genetics, the environment, and other factors and how treatments like exercise make a difference from one person to the next.”

With a gift from the Specialized Foundation, Reiss’ team will be able to conduct the initial research needed to begin addressing this gap in ADHD research. Reiss is planning to recruit a postdoctoral scholar in sports neuroscience to help lead this work by examining the effects of cycling on cognitive function in children with ADHD, as well as in their peers without ADHD. Using near-infrared light technology (NIRS) to image brain function, the children will be studied in the areas of memory, sustained attention, reward processing, motor learning, cognitive flexibility and response inhibition. The team will seek to answer questions such as: What is the difference seen in children who bike for short versus longer increments of time? How long do the impacts on cognition and brain function last? Other areas of study will include stationary versus mobile cycling and comparisons of cycling versus other forms of exercise.

“We are excited about what this research can uncover, possibly identifying which children will most benefit from using physical activities like cycling to treat their ADHD, and how we can structure their activities to be the most impactful on their cognitive functions,” explained Reiss. “Mike is a great example of how, for some individuals, ADHD can be managed through cycling and other activities. Through his generosity, we will be able to advance our research into how others with ADHD can reach their full potential, too. We are so grateful for his support and vision.”

Qualified postdoctoral candidates can learn more about opportunities to join Reiss’ team at

The Specialized Foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit organization formed in 2014 by Specialized Bicycle Components. The Specialized Foundation promotes cycling as a tool for children to achieve health, academic and social success. Through investments in primary scientific medical research and measured outcome programs in school and after school programs, The Specialized Foundation aims to increase accessibility to cycling and improve the social, emotional, and physical well-being of children, with a particular focus on those with learning differences like ADHD. Learn more at