Exercise and ADHD: The Fascinating Ways It Helps Your Brain

Physical activity is a workout for your muscles AND your mind.

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Whether your cardio workout is torching major calories or your strength classes are toning your tush, you already know the perks of exercising for your body. But you may not know just how effective exercise can be for your brain, especially for helping treat ADHD.  “When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals called neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and dopamine that help you pay attention and think better,” says psychiatrist Susan Samuels, MD, of New York Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine.

Research shows that exercise can also reduce stress and anxiety, improve executive function (i.e. making decisions), boost working memory, and reduce impulsivity.  To get the best results from exercising for ADHD, try the following tips.

  • Find activities you love and add them to your daily routine. If you try to force yourself onto the dreaded treadmill when it’s really not your thing, you’re less likely to stick to it.

  • Get a dual mind-body workout. Try activities that also challenge your mind, like rock-climbing, ice skating, or martial arts. All that concentration and fine motor coordination will activate multiple areas of the brain.

  • Get outside. Exercising in nature may help improve ADHD symptoms better than working out in a stuffy gym. Try cycling, tennis, or outdoor yoga to get the benefits of an open-air workout.

  • Exercise in the morning. “People with ADHD tend to have a harder time waking up, and exercise may actually help by boosting levels of brain chemicals that help you focus,” says Dr. Samuels. Yeah, it ain’t easy to get out of bed in the first place, but it pays off in the end. (Psst...here’s a morning workout that actually starts on your bed.)

  • Try yoga. This low-impact workout focuses on mindfulness while reducing stress and anxiety, making it the perfect workout for tackling ADHD symptoms. (We promise: you don’t have to be flexible to do yoga, but here are simple yoga stretches to get you started.)

While exercise will not replace ADHD treatment like medication and therapy, getting sweaty can supplement your regimen and make everyday life a little easier.