Exercise Your ADHD Brain

Many of us dread exercising, even though we know it is a proven method to get us in to shape.  (Raise your hand if you feel like patting yourself on the back following 15 minutes on the treadmill. Guilty!) But, what about exercising the brain?  It is a healthy option for anyone, and an even greater benefit to individuals who struggle with symptoms of ADHD.

Why?

Exercise flexes the brain’s muscle, so to speak. It flips a switch for our executive functions and helps to increase mood and focus.

So, why wouldn’t we encourage our kids to be active if they struggle to stay focused?

Exercise offers kids with ADHD many benefits.  It improves working memory, and increases focus so they can be more alert in class and less impulsive, decreasing the severity of ADHD symptoms.  It also allows the child who has trouble winding down his brain when it is time to fall asleep the chance to burn off that extra energy.

Some children with ADHD find it difficult to exercise, so the form of movement they choose is important.  Not every child with ADHD excels at competitive sports due to lack of coordination or the inability to follow fast-paced, complicated directions.  Any activity that raises the heart rate will do: martial arts, running track, swimming or even cycling where kids tend to compete against their own individual ability are great examples.  Or maybe your child with ADHD isn’t eager to join a school sports organization or any organized sport.

Exercise as a family!

Find an activity that appeals to your child, (walk the dog or play catch in the yard) and use it as a time to bond, all while helping improve your child’s focus in a natural way.  My husband has been known to run the boys through a fun obstacle course similar to the television show WIPE OUT in our basement, just to get them off the couch.  (Or on the couch, as my husband sometimes allowed.  I pick my battles.)

As a child with ADHD, your son or daughter often feels misunderstood, always expecting to fail, so the benefits of exercising together will also help to increase their confidence! A competitive game of HORSE with Mom or Dad at the basketball hoop can create some friendly competition while releasing endorphins.

Schools appear to be jumping on board with the notion that exercise can improve kids ability to focus. An elementary school in Colorado has changed time-outs to time-ins when kids misbehave, offering them 10 minutes on a stationary bike or an elliptical trainer instead of sitting them in a hallway.  It’s a win-win for the student and teacher.  A school in North Carolina launched a program in 2010 called Read and Ride, where students can pedal on stationary bikes while reading their favorite book.  An elementary school in New Jersey is following suit, and began asking parents for old exercise bikes to help ‘get the wiggles out.’ Kids earn time to go to a separate room filled with stationary bikes and pedal out their impulsivity.  Teachers often say kids returning from a half-hour physical education class tend to focus more on lessons.

Children often lose recess time when misbehaving, but it is the worst outcome for a child with ADHD.

So, why take ADHD medications if exercise helps work in a similar but natural way?  The effects of exercise only last a few hours following the activity, serving short-term but big benefits.  It can help to clear your head, though other interventions like medication can be helpful and offer benefits throughout the day.  Likewise, medications aren’t the only fix for ADHD symptoms.  Health experts recommend a combination: Medications, behavioral management and exercise, along with education for the parents.  A great site to follow is ADHDaze, written by a mother whose daughter and husband have been diagnosed with ADHD.  Jennifer covers it all, including why their dog became a great therapy tool for ADHD, sensory, diet and why she first chose to share her journey.  You can also find her on twitter at ADHDdaze1.

Many people don’t try new things because it requires stepping outside of their comfort zones (hello, hot yoga class that I attended ONCE) or it addresses something even bigger: RISK.  Toss that worry aside. Exercise is a no-risk treatment for kids and adults with ADHD and teaches healthy long-term habits. Studies show as little as 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise can benefit the brain, so why not give it a try.  Your waist may or may not be trim, but your brain muscles will be firm.

Get to flexing!