Preliminary data of a Yale University study is suggesting that exercise is, at times, a potential substitute for Ritalin and related medications.

Every hour, for five minutes, elementary students in the Independence School District get out of their chairs.

Some stretch, some do simple exercise and others will do a silly dance to music.

No matter what the students are doing, the goal is to move and get a few minutes of exercise every hour of every day. The results of this simple activity make Superintendent Jim Hinson happy.

“We are very pleased with the results,” he said of a study the district is involved with Yale University. “Our office referrals are down, and there are fewer kids having to take medication. We believe that is very promising.”

Preliminary data of a Yale University study is suggesting that exercise is, at times, a potential substitute for Ritalin and related medications. In a controlled evaluation of Dr. David Katz’s ABC for Fitness program in 13 Independence elementary schools, there was a 33 percent decrease in the number of children receiving medication for ADHD in the “intervention schools” compared to only a seven percent decrease in the same time period in the “control schools.”

Katz is the director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center and is the founder of the ABC for Fitness program.

“This finding is certainly preliminary and requires further testing before we trust it completely,” said Katz in a press release. “But the trend is clear enough, and conforms entirely to intuition. It is, quite simply, normal for kids to run around. With pressure to focus on standardized tests related in part to the ‘No Child Left Behind’ legislation, we have been leaving all of the children on their behinds. In fact, we take naturally kinetic kids, bolt them to chairs all day long, then wonder why we wind up with adults we can’t get off couches with crowbars.”

ABC for Fitness was developed as a way to increase children’s activity levels through “brief bouts of physical activity” throughout the day. This is the third year of five that the Independence district has been involved in the study. Independence is the only district in the United States to be involved in the program.

Hinson said teachers have been responsible for implementing the program, which they refer to as “activity bursts.”

“We have really made a concerted effort to get these students out of their chairs every hour,” he said. “As adults, we don’t like being stuck in our chair for hours. How can we then expect kids to do the same thing? We want them to get up and be active. It has really become a serious part of our daily schedule.”

The study of both the ABC for Fitness program and the Nutrition Detectives program was funded by a grant from the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hinson said he is “thrilled” at the opportunity to implement the program in the schools and believes through it and other efforts in the Independence district, health and wellness will become a life-long issue for students.

“I meet with a group of local doctors throughout the year and it was made very clear that they were dealing with wellness issues at an alarming rate,” he said. “I think it was a wakeup call that we needed to do something for these kids. We want our children to think about being healthy for a lifetime. This was an opportunity to partner with a great program and we jumped at that chance.”

For more information about the ABC for Fitness Program, visit Katz’s Web site at davidkatzmd.com/abcforfitness.aspx.