Exercise and ADHD

 Huff! Puff! Faster! Faster! Whew!

So, you’ve resolved to get more exercise this year. Or, you haven’t, but maybe you should….Yes, exercise is good for you! In fact, if you have ADHD, there are some particular benefits to exercise.

John Ratey, a psychiatrist at Harvard, and author of Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, says that individuals with ADHD should “Think of exercise as medication… Exercise turns on the attention system, the so-called executive functions — sequencing, working memory, prioritizing, inhibiting, and sustaining attention.”

Exercise has a number of benefits that impact individuals with ADHD:

1) Exercise leads to the release of endorphins, which are hormones that boost mood and increase a sense of pleasure. Endorphins are responsible for that “feel good” feeling after exercise, and the “runner’s high” you may have heard of.

2) Exercise also increases the levels of several brain chemicals – dopmine, seratonin and norepinepherine – that are often low in individuals with ADHD. These chemicals impact mood as well as focus, alertness and attention, and the executive functions that help us with organization. Medications such as stimulants and some antidepressants can increase these brain chemicals. So can exercise – it’s a natural, healthy way to augment other treatments.

3) Exercise can help build neural circuitry (brain and nervous system abilities) according to recent research. In particular, trying new types of exercise that demand some concentration and offer a mental challenge is good for the brain. For kids, this might be gymnastics, dance, or swimming. For college students and adults, club sports, racketball, squash, folk-dancing, or any class introducing new skills can offer this benefit.

4) Exercise can increase a sense of competence and confidence. According to a study in the Journal of Health Psychology, it doesn’t matter how hard you exercise, how long you exercise, or how competent you are, only whether you exercise regularly.

What if you don’t like exercise? Well, I could quote Nike and say “Just do it!” But, really, it’s not that hard.  If you’re not physically inclined, a thirty minute walk three or four times a week is all it takes to reap the benefits of exercise for the ADHD brain. Sound boring? Consider these options: Some of my clients like the apps “Zombies Run” and “The Walk” which turn exercising into a game. Some people make walking social with one or two walking buddies during the week. Others switch up biking, jogging and dancing so it’s not boring. Lots of options…

So . . . What’s your plan?

 Photos from stockimage at freedigitalphotos.net


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