Why Exercise Is Important When You Have ADHD

Often diagnosed in childhood and lasting into adulthood, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, commonly known as ADHD, can make it hard for both children and adults to focus, sit still or not behave impulsively (via the American Psychiatric Association). There is no clear cause for ADHD, but such factors as genetics, brain injury, and low birth weight have been considered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some have placed the blame on a high-sugar diet, environmental factors, or even watching too much television. However, the research does not support these elements as leading to ADHD, although they could exacerbate the symptoms.

Treatment for ADHD can vary (via Mayo Clinic). It can involve a combination of counseling, skills training, and medication. A doctor may prescribe stimulants, such as methylphenidate or amphetamine, which both help to boost and balance out chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. ADHD patients can also receive counseling to learn organizational and problem-solving skills, as well as techniques to reduce impulsivity and improve self-esteem. However, there can be other ways of managing ADHD symptoms, including exercise.

Exercise is a mood booster

One of the primary reasons that exercise can be such a boon to those experiencing ADHD is due to the release of dopamine in the brain (via the American Psychological Association). According to a 2014 study published by Postgraduate Medicine, dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the brain and appears at lower levels in ADHD patients. Fortunately, many medications prescribed for ADHD work by raising the brain's levels of dopamine, making exercise a great mood booster (via WebMD).

People with ADHD also have issues with executive functioning, which are skills that include paying attention, multitasking, and organization, as per Healthline. Luckily, a 2020 study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience showed improved executive functioning among people who engaged in regular physical activity. And another study from 2019, published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, showed that aerobic exercise led to improved cognitive functions and executive tasks in patients with ADHD.

Keep your mind engaged

The average adult, with or without ADHD, should engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of muscle-strengthening activity each week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This averages out to about 30 minutes a day for five days out of the week. For people with ADHD, doctors could suggest a physical activity that engages the brain, like sports that require them to follow a ball, such as soccer, tennis, or basketball (via Medical News Today). Team sports, like football, rugby, or hockey could also be a good avenue for people with ADHD, as can individual workouts that may offer mental stimulation, such as martial arts, rock climbing, or dance-based workouts.

Keep in mind, the best exercises for ADHD patients are ones that help to develop connections in the brain and stimulate the release of neurotransmitters (per the Attention Deficit Disorder Association). Ideally, these can include exercises that require you to stay alert and focused and activities that require cooperation with others, like aerobic exercises. You should also try and avoid exercise becoming a routine or something that is repetitive. This can be accomplished by exercising with a group or other stimulating activities while exercising, such as reading a book, listening to music, or watching television. There are many options out there to keep your mind stimulated while exercising, so it's a good idea to try a few out until you find one that works best for you.