One of the best ways for children and adults to help reduce the symptoms of ADHD is exercise. Physical activity can help focus, it doesn’t cost much, you don’t need a prescription, and it has benefits for both adults and children.
What Happens to Your Brain During Exercise
When you exercise, your brain releases several important chemicals. These include:endorphins, (compounds that regulate mood, pleasure, and pain), dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These brain chemicals affect focus and attention, which are often in short supply in those with ADHD. This in turn improves the attention system’s ability to function in a regular and consistent manner, which can reduce the craving for new stimuli and increase alertness. According to John Ratey, M.D., exercise turns on the attention system, the so-called executive functions—sequencing, working memory, prioritizing, inhibiting, and sustaining attention. There is also evidence that physical activity can help kids with ADHD overcome past failures and accept challenges in areas where they haven’t had success before.
And best of all, you don’t have to be a marathon runner or champion athlete to derive benefits from exercise. Walking for 30 minutes, four times a week, works just fine.
Tips for Getting Into a Good Exercise Routine
Robert Segal, M.A., and Melinda Smith, M.A. at Helpguide.org provide some useful tips for creating a good exercise regime. They recommend:
- Exercise on a daily basis – Choose something vigorous and fun that you can stick with, like a team sport or working out with a friend.
- Increase stress relief by exercising outdoors – People with ADHD often benefit from sunshine and green surroundings.
- Try relaxation exercise – These include meditation, yoga, or tai chi. As well as relieving stress, it can teach you to better control your attention and impulses.
- Consider physical activities that require focus – Activities such as tae kwon do, ballet, and gymnastics, in which you have to pay close attention to body movements, tax the attention system, which is benefit for kids and adolescents with ADHD.
Exercise isn’t the whole solution for someone who’s struggling with ADHD, but it can have a positive effect on attention and concentration, and can improve cognitive function in both kids and adults.Getting into a regular habit of physical activity can pay big dividends.